Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mansfield Park Is Easy To Watch, Hard To Care

The Good: Dialog, Scenery, Costumes, Frances O'Connor! Cinematography
The Bad: It's Austen, so it's slower than glass warping, Plot, Characters are all "types."
The Basics: Excellent for Austen fans, good for anyone who appreciates beauty. A definite "chick flick" - redeeming for guys solely by having a gorgeous protagonist!

If you're like me and you shudder when you think of the world of Jane Austen, wherein the mores and societal mandates seem ridiculous, pretentious, and boring, it seems odd that I would actually recommend this film to you. Also, it might be hard for you to believe me. I get that. The truth is, the choice to recommend this movie did come down to the classic toss of the coin and - because I was indecisive on this one - it is a very weak recommendation.

Mansfield Park doesn't accomplish a lot in terms of plot. It's pretty much the typical "British woman falls for guy A, leaves guy A, gets close to guy B and in the process realizes guy A was the right one" plot of 19th Century British literature. Please, don't sound so shocked! It's a pretty solid formula (Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, you name it) so this film has almost no points for plot. I could say more about the plot, but it is pointless and that is my point. You've seen this movie before. It has been made and remade and remade again in both literature and film. While watching the movie, you'll feel like you are watching "types" more than characters. There is little that distinguishes the characters in Mansfield Park from, say, the characters in Villette. So, to be sure, the plot is not the reason to subject yourself to this movie.

The dialog is occasionally witty, when it's not being typically 19th Century evasive. By that, I mean that frequently, the characters will not say what is on their minds. They obscure their feelings and their meanings and that can be tiresome to watch. When they are not doing that, the movie is funny and interesting and moves at a decent pace. Unfortunately, that does not happen terribly frequently.

The characters are interesting enough, most more so than the average film. Well, the female characters are interesting enough. In Mansfield Park, the protagonist, Fanny, is stuck between two men: Edmund and Thomas. Both of them are fairly uninteresting. The moments when Fanny (Frances O'Connor) speaks to the audience directly, are pulled off with great amusement.

After the cinematography, scenery and costumes, which are all exceptional, we're left at a dead heat, a completely average film that leaves me split over whether to recommend it or not.

The truth is, Patricia Rozema - the director - is saddled with taking a fairly boring Jane Austen novel and putting it on the screen. Her compensation is not in making the pace any quicker or the characters any more genuine or real, but rather providing beautiful scenery to look at. This is a movie that, when it gets slowest, the camera pans over beautiful verdant landscapes. There's an almost surreal quality to the film in the way it distracts from the story by trying to provide more things to look at.

Frances O'Connor, playing the protagonist Fanny, puts the film over. Simply, she is stunningly beautiful. No matter what problems this film has, no matter how boring it gets in places, O'Connor is remarkably easy to look at and she acts well. Even if she wasn't, she hides it by being very easy to look at. Her co-stars, Jonny Lee Miller and Alessandro Nivola (Edmund and Henry, respectively), do little to add anything to their character's characters with their performances. Embeth Davidtz is fine as Mary Crawford and she looks quite natural in the period costume.

Actually, the whole "look" of the film is excellent, but the bottom line is, Frances O'Connor's simple, un-Hollywood beauty alone makes this film worth the price of admission. There's not more to say about this movie; it is a story that has been told thousands of times, this time it is the same. It just looks better than most.

For other works with Frances O’Connor, check out my reviews of:
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence


For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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