Before I get to my review, I want to mention something funny that happened on my way into the Variety screening of Bright Star. There was a red carpet premiere taking place at the same multiplex where the screening was held but I had no intention of stopping to gape. Sometimes I just get annoyed at all the security and photogs who get in my way.
But then I saw Hugh Laurie. I just stumbled upon Dr. House on a random Thursday evening! Most of you probably know I’m a huge fan of his and there he was, a cane’s length away from me. He was sporting a cropped do which he’d said helps him look like a mental patient (I disagree). Turned out the event was for House‘s season 6 premiere (airing next Monday, 9/21) and once I peeled my eyes off Laurie and looked down the line, I saw Lisa Edelstein, Jesse Spencer, Olivia Wilde and Robert Sean Leonard walking the carpet, too. I guess this time, the paps are forgiven.
OK, on to the review.
Jane Campion has created a gorgeous piece of art. Bright Star (limited U.S. release today) is about the romance between the poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his muse Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), the spirited girl next door who is good at fashion and sewing. At first, she has no interest in poems and he thinks fashion is frivolous. But once she reads his Endymion, she asks him to teach her how to appreciate poetry. Soon, a passionate love blooms between them, rudely cut short by his death at 25.
In this age of 3D movies with overblown budgets, director/writer Campion has created something almost magical—a full-bodied, 2D movie with a $13-million budget that seems to stimulate all five senses. In a scene where Fanny lies on her bed with the wind blowing seductively through her curtains, you can almost feel the coolness on your skin. You can smell the flowers in her garden, watch the brightly colored butterflies flitting about in her room (as part of her butterfly farm), taste the soup Keats slurps gingerly to soothe a cough and hear the wonderful a capella singing and violin playing which occur often in the Brawne household.
As Fanny, Cornish is definitely the bright star of this movie. Looking like a cross between younger versions of Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron, she shines with intelligence, wit and spunk. In the last five minutes of the film, she’s devastating. She’s been on the cusp of stardom with significant turns in Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Stop-Loss; I hope this role pushes her over the edge.
Whishaw does solid work as Keats and generates chemistry with Cornish that’s more playful than sizzling. I thought he looked a little too old in the movie to play Keats from 23-25 years old (perhaps because of facial scruff) but when he showed up afterwards to do Q & A, he looked about 12.
As Keats’s best friend, Charles Brown, Paul Schneider is practically unrecognizable with facial hair, ample girth and Scottish brogue. Though I’ve seen this character actor (and so have you) in lots of roles like Ryan Gosling’s brother in Lars and the Real Girl and the guy Amy Poehler has a crush on in Parks and Recreation, I didn’t know it was him until he showed up for the Q & A, clean-shaven and speaking in his native American accent. Then my reaction was “Oh, it’s that guy!” His transformation is quite impressive.
There are a few factors which might deter some moviegoers from seeing this movie: lack of big stars, period piece, poetry being a main topic. Let me emphatically say there’s no need to worry. I’m practically illiterate when it comes to poetry, always hitting a mental block whenever I try reading it (Campion said in the Q & A she had the same problem when she was younger). But this movie still made me swoon because the actors are very good at conveying the feeling behind the words. All you have to do is let the beauty wash over you.
Nerd verdict: A Bright Star indeed to start off Oscar season