Thursday, April 2, 2015

Movie with Abe: Effie Gray

Effie Gray
Directed by Richard Laxton
Released April 3, 2015

Not all marriages are fated to work. Even the best of friends aren’t guaranteed a happy life together once things turn romantic and a certain sense of permanence sets in. Whether it’s good, bad, or neutral, there is certainly a difference in a relationship once a marriage has happened. In unfortunate cases, however, a blissful engagement period can turn into a truly sour life together for two previously happy people. Sometimes, that transition is a violent and destructive one, and sometimes it is a subtler transformation marked by one spouse’s inability to pay the other any attention.

In this film based on the true story of Effie Gray (Dakota Fanning), a young Scottish woman who is wed to famed art critic John Ruskin (Greg Wise), bliss and joy precede their highly anticipated nuptials. The aftermath, however, is nothing like Effie might have imagined. John is immersed in his work and his preoccupation with art, and sees no room for Effie in anything he does. His promises to take her to exciting places come true to an extent, but John is never a part of them, retreating to a solitary space to work the moment he arrives and putting Effie completely out of his mind for the duration of the visit.

Effie’s yearning for adventure contrasts sharply with John’s serious attitude towards his work, but it goes far beyond that. As portrayed in the film, John ignores Effie at every turn, and shuts her down when it seems that she is happy about something, dismissing its importance or relevance, refusing even to converse about a subject he deems trivial. It’s no surprise that Effie sinks deep into depression as her husband refuses to look at or touch her, leading to the somewhat surprising and historic conclusion that should not be spoiled here since it at least represents a moderately interesting part of the film.

The subject matter here might be of interest to filmgoers, but this film follows a tradition of many period dramas focused on mistreated women failing to capture the true mood or meaning of a given situation, allying themselves with the protagonist but not making her journey come alive. Casting Fanning, who impressed at an early age in “I Am Sam” and other films, as Effie is not a strong choice, since she is not capable of carrying this film with her own energy. Saoirse Ronan and Keira Knightley have played similar parts in the past and been much more effective. The film as a whole remains lonely and depressing, never truly becoming energizing or powerful enough to be impactful.


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