Tuesday, July 17, 2012

You've Got to See This: "The Age of Innocence"

Entertainment Weekly recently ran a feature called "50 Best Movies You've Never Seen," a collection of independent movies, foreign films, and documentaries that might not have been seen (or even heard of) by moviegoers, particularly in this era of mega-multiplexes playing the same movies on several screens. Being the huge movie fan that I am, I've seen about 20 movies on this list.

Other than serving as a catalyst to add more movies to my Netflix queue, this feature inspired my thinking about those movies that blew me away which others might have missed, or not even heard of. (Sometimes when I'm discussing movies I've seen with friends, colleagues, or family, someone will ask, "Where did you even hear of that? I didn't know that movie existed!")

So I've decided to start a regular feature of my own called "You've Got to See This." This list will include movies I really enjoyed which you might not have had the chance to see in the theaters, which might not have played in your area, or which you might never had heard of. All of these might not be for everyone (and I'm even taking a few from Entertainment Weekly's list), but hopefully you'll find a few you'll enjoy.

First up (in no particular order): Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence (1993).

Based on Edith Wharton's novel of the same name, there were a lot of expectations around this movie when it was released given its pedigree—Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder in a Joanne Woodward-narrated, Martin Scorsese-directed film. For reasons I don't quite understand, the movie didn't make the splash people thought it would, although it did receive five Oscar nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Winona Ryder. (She won the Golden Globe Award that year for her performance.)

Newland Archer (Day-Lewis) is an affluent lawyer in 1870s New York, engaged to May Welland (Ryder), a beautiful socialite with very little desire to challenge the status quo or show any real passion for life. Newland begins to question the life he has planned for himself after the arrival of May’s cousin, the exotic, passionate, and sophisticated Countess Ellen Olenska (Pfeiffer). Ellen is seeking a divorce from her abusive husband, a Polish count, which has made her a social outcast and greatly displeases her family, who are afraid of scandal.

As Newland grows to love and care more and more deeply for Ellen, having convinced her not to press for a divorce, he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the society to which he belongs and the idea of entering into a passionless marriage with May. The question at this point, is whether he will follow society's expectations, or his heart. And he has some pointed assistance in making that decision.

I thought the performances of Pfeiffer, Day-Lewis, and Ryder were absolutely spot-on in this film. Pfeiffer's character burns with a fiery, unrequited desire, and a longing she is unable to make public. It is definitely one of her strongest performances and should have netted her another Oscar nomination. A scene with her and Day-Lewis in a carriage—with them fully dressed in period clothes—has more passion than movie scenes in which actors wear far less. Ryder gives the performance of her career (I think she should have won the Oscar that year), as a seemingly naive girl with far more intelligence than she lets on, and Day-Lewis brings an understated calmness you don't usually see in his performances.

Some found the movie's pacing a little slow, and expected more fire, more passion in the plot, but in my opinion, those that did failed to understand Wharton's book and/or the time in which it was set. Yes, this is a period piece, but the love story at its core is very real and believable. This is a very different film than you usually see from Martin Scorsese, with a gentleness I didn't really see again until Hugo last year.

Watch the trailer.

No comments:

Post a Comment