Friday, March 30, 2012

An Affair To Forget: The Affair Of The Necklace

The Good: Excellent cast, Two lines of dialog
The Bad: Lackluster acting, Dismal plot, Uninteresting characters, Repetitive use of footage
The Basics: The Affair Of The Necklace relates a ridiculously complicated and equally pointless tale of a young woman who inadvertently helped cause the French Revolution.

There ought to be a rule about actors appearing in period films. If you appear in a film set in the past, you may only appear in another one if your role is very different and the overall story of the movie is significantly different. As it stands, one of the necklace-making Monsieur's of The Affair Of The Necklace is the Doje in Dangerous Beauty and I found that somewhat distracting. This is not an exceptionally serious complaint, but it is the start of a litany of strikes against The Affair Of The Necklace.

The tagline for this cinematic dud is "Her birthright was stolen. Her Dignity Taken. Her Rights Denied. Deception Was The Only Option." This sets one up for a movie very different from the one I watched. The first hurdle is that the implication of the tagline is that somehow the necklace in the story is the protagonists birthright, which it is not. The second is the idea that the protagonist somehow starts at a point of serious devaluation and must rise above it. As becomes evident in my description of the plot, this is patently untrue.

Jeanne St. Remy de Valois is a young woman who was orphaned when her liberal, almost revolutionary, father spoke out in the French government for the rights of the working class person and the importance of keeping the masses happy, as opposed to simply controlled. Jeanne's earliest significant memory was of watching her father beaten to death and their house gutted by French soldiers. Now, years later, Jeanne works to gain her family name back but finds the way blocked by a Minister of Titles that hated her father and what he stood for and a monarch (Marie-Antoinette) who will only ignore her.

Thus, unable to get back her ruined family name and claim her father's decent estate, Jeanne meets up with a gigolo, Retaux de Vilette, and together they scheme to get her title back by enlisting the aid of Cardinal Louis de Rohan and then betraying him.

As far as stupid premises go, this has to be one of the top ten in human history. The Affair Of The Necklace makes the point of observing that the events in the film happened, which makes the story even more agonizingly stupid. The story is a convoluted mess of conspiracy and lies that is simplified thus: Jeanne wants her childhood house back, but cannot get it because she is a woman without a title. Marie-Antoinette ignores her, so Jeanne enlists a political adversary of the queen, Cardinal Rohan, to help her under the guise of him helping himself. Two jewelers, in the meantime, have made an insanely expensive necklace for Marie-Antoinette that she does not want. The jewelers enlist Jeanne to get Marie-Antoinette to buy the necklace so they aren't out the huge sums of money. Jeanne convinces Rohan that Marie-Antoinette wants the necklace (she doesn't) and that by helping her obtain it using his vast fortunes, he will be back in her good graces. Jeanne, I suppose, presumes that when Rohan and Marie-Antoinette have reconciled as friends they will want to do her the favor of restoring her title. It's a somewhat ridiculous and convoluted plot that is not as incomprehensible as it is pointless.

Jeanne's quest is utterly pointless given her position and desires. Jeanne wants her father's house back and she wants the family title. The first goal is easily obtainable - even for a woman of her moderate social position - by simply marrying one who is fabulously wealthy, a characteristic that several of the characters portray in the movie. But the second goal is utterly ludicrous. Why should Jeanne wish to get her family's title back? Her family has been disgraced and seen as traitors. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that having the Valois family name will associate her with traitors and revolutionaries to all those who hold the power. How far could she truly expect to get with a family name that is so marred?

I suppose in reality, people are less sensible than in fiction, which is why Jeanne is so utterly irritating to watch.

So, to go back to the tagline for the movie: Her Birthright was Stolen; So what?! It's a pretty crappy legacy for one who wants anything in pre-Revolution France. Her Dignity Taken. No evidence of that; she only seems to try the least dignified ways to get back her title. Her Rights Denied. Not really; she seems to have a remarkable freedom of movement and speech throughout the film. Only her land rights were denied and given that she married for one title, it seems inconceivable that she would not have considered marrying someone better for an even better title. Deception Was The Only Option. Certainly not. There were other options still available to her from marrying better to using the wealth she made of Cardinal Rohan early on to simply bribe the Minister of Titles.

The real downfall of The Affair Of The Necklace is in its presentation. First, the childhood scenes of the Valois Family Manor getting torched is repeated with annoying frequency throughout the first half of the movie. Second, the characters are not presented with any flair or real character and there is absolutely no chemistry between Valois and Retaux, which forces the least interesting almost-sex scene I've seen in years.

But the ultimate letdown is in the players. The cast is pretty incredible, with Jonathan Pryce, Brian Cox and Christopher Walken being names to draw in a lot of viewers. Unfortunately, not one of the actors is playing their a-game. Pryce is dull, Cox is uninspired, Walken lacks his usual charisma. Simon Baker as Retaux de Vilette is bland and Hillary Swank lacks any character or screen presence as the protagonist Jeanne. Indeed, throughout my viewing of The Affair Of The Necklace, I kept thinking that Swank looked a lot like Jennifer Garner and I was glad that Garner had not gotten dragged into this piece of crap.

Who will enjoy this? Beats me; I didn't and I like period films and love history. Who won't like this? Anyone who enjoys a good plot, decent characters and an excellent use of talented actors.

For other works with Hilary Swank, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Million Dollar Baby
Buffy The Vampire Slayer


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the film reviews I have written!

© 2012, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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