Friday, December 23, 2011

What Kind Of Sicko Doesn't Like Something As Wholesome As Rigoletto? Oh, Wait, It's Me!...

The Good: Themes, Moments of Joseph Paur's acting
The Bad: Thematically heavyhanded, Most of the acting, writing, directing, Obvious plot, No DVD bonus features.
The Basics: Wholesome family fare that is not entertaining gets high marks for message and one actor's performance, but I can't muster up the recommend.

I'm branching out in the world. Yes, I am doing my best to make new friends, keep regular with therapy and clean up my house and life. The relevant aspect of this for this review is that I've been trying to make new friends. This requires meeting new people, something I have traditionally been terrible at. I've recently made friends with a woman fifteen years my senior who is a conservative Christian fundamentalist (someone who read my many reviews of Ann Coulter's books is now snickering at me, I know!) and she is quite nice and we've formed an unlikely friendship based on other interests. One of the things we certainly do not have in common is our taste in movies. We've more or less alternated movie nights when we see one another (and her young adult daughter) every week and on my weeks I tread toward the most safe and family-friendly materials in my collection. I'm out come the next time it's my turn. On her first go-around, my new friend introduced me to Rigoletto. Something tells me I will never be able introduce her to the grandeur of the tragedy Magnolia (reviewed here!).

Rigoletto is an independent, family-friendly film produced by Bonneville Entertainment and is marketed as wholesome, family-friendly entertainment. On this front, it certainly lives up. there is nothing inappropriate or even mildly questionable for any audience. Unfortunately, as an adult without children looking for something to be entertained and enlightened by, this was just abysmal and felt much longer than it actually was.

In the poor town of Castle Gate, during the American Great Depression, the townsfolk are suffering as they have no money and no one to buy their livestock or other goods. There, Bonnie Nelson, a young girl who is wholesome and good, lives and struggles through the daily travails like school, losing a singing contest to a snob and hanging out with her stuttering friend who just lacks self confidence. One day, a nearby mansion is purchased and Bonnie is leased to the owner to do chores to help raise some extra money for her mother so they might keep their house. Inside the mansion, she encounters Mr. Ribaldi, an asocial musician who has a deformed face and an irritated temperament. Despite breaking the rules set down by Ribaldi, the older man and the girl befriend one another and he teaches her to sing well enough to go to a bigger competition and compete.

Yes, this is a Beauty And The Beast story, based on Verdi's opera by the same name, it is more or less a blend of Beauty And The Beast and Frankenstein with strong Christian overtones to beat the themes into the viewer's head. Yes, the obvious statements that beauty is found on the inside and goodness is through deeds, not appearances are reiterated so frequently that if Helen Keller were sat down in front of the film, she'd get the point. There is nothing subtle about the "be nice to everyone" and "charity is its own reward" themes. Virtually every line of dialogue is about how everyone is suffering and we all need to come together as a community to overcome our fears.

Unfortunately, this is mixed in with a plotline involving the bank recalling all of the mortgages in town. So, even as Ribaldi helps fund operations and medical procedures needed to save the lives or better the lives of various townsfolk, he is blamed for gutting the town and evicting all of its citizens. Naturally, in a wholesome family film like this, there is a misunderstanding. Here, good is absolute good. Evil is more or less absolutely bad. Good can look bad, but of course anyone who looks on the inside of that bad-looking person will find the good. Yes, this is the structure and moralistic stance that the film takes.

If films like this had been prevalent in the world of Jeremiah one suspects that series would have been drastically different. There is nothing bad about Rigoletto's message, but it is heavyhanded, obvious and it guts any entertainment value from the film when virtually every line is proselytizing from a bright little cherub. It's like having too much candy; it's so sweet it's easy to get sick of it. By the time the second song came up in the movie, I was plenty sick of the easy, unsubtle, approach the film was taking.

The consistently decent element of Rigoletto is the performance by Joseph Paur as Rigoletto. He plays the angry hermit with the heart of gold quite well, with wonderful modulation to his voice taking him from creepy to loving with an effortless quality while still managing to maintain the character. He has a physical presence to him that works quite well for the role as well.

Unfortunately, writer-director Leo D. Paur lacks some strong sensibilities to bring out the best in anyone other than Joseph Paur. Even there, he makes some critical mistakes. For example, only one side of Ribaldi's face is deformed. Thus, when one looks at him from one side, he looks completely unwounded. This seems to be forgotten by Paur in a critical scene near the end when none of the characters recognize a new character who bears a resemblance to Ribaldi, despite the fact that they are looking at the side of his face that would have looked identical to Ribaldi!

Ivey Lloyd seems unsure of her part as Bonnie and none of the other performers are noteworthy in their roles. This film employs a number of child actors and it is hard to get excited about their performances. They are children acting like children and truth be told, I'm pretty much immune to the "kids with dirt on their faces are cute" thing.

The best moments involve Bonnie taking the high road to her singer competitor, but after that the film is obvious and it's boring. On DVD, there are no bonuses to bring it up or make it less of what it is. I'm grading somewhat on a curve by putting this at "average" status, largely because I recognize I'm biased against the genre. Yeah, I can live with moralistic films; I just don't like boring and overstated.

For other family-friendly films, please visit my reviews of:
Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest
March Of The Penguins


For other movie reviews, check out my Movie Index Page!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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