When being rich just isn’t quite cutting it for you.
Young American Emma (Mia Wasikowska) is finally able to leave the convent, although, it’s only so that she can get married to a country doctor by the name of Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). It was arranged by her father, of course, but there’s no real problems with Charles to begin with; however, he’s so boring and dull, Emma begins to grow tired and look for something more meaningful. She thinks she finds that with the dashing Marquis (Logan Marshall-Green), a man who appreciates hunting and fine art, and then she thinks she finds it with local law clerk Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller). Eventually though, this excess in love and sex, leads to a much greater excess in fashion and luxuries; both of which Emma, nor Charles are able to pay for, although the dry-goods dealer Monsieur Lheureux (Rhys Ifans) has no problem extending her as much credit as she wants. This all starts to catch up to Emma, where she’s not only in constant fear of her husband finding out about her philandering ways, but also of losing everything that was handed to her when she got married in the first place.
Normally, these kinds of fluffy, British period pieces don’t do it for me, but with recent releases like Belle and Far From the Madding Crowd entertaining me, my tune has changed a bit. Now, I’ve come to realize that these period pieces can work if they’re made for more people than just their target-audience. Sure, you can say, “It works for who it’s made for”, but to me, that’s another way of saying, “Oh well, you know, a good majority of people will hate this movie, but they aren’t the target audience who it’s made for.” If that’s so abundantly the case, then whom exactly are these period pieces made for?
Older people? Intellectuals? People that aren’t below the age of 50? Either way, I’ve come to realize that the more these kinds of period pieces start to try and reach out a little to other possible target audiences, the more I’ve come to enjoy them and understand the appeal.
And then, there’s Madame Bovary, which kind of reminds me exactly why these kinds of period pieces don’t work for me, as well as many others like me, in the first place.
Adapting the story of Madame Bovary must be a pretty hard task, but you’d think that with a female director on-hand to direct a story about a female, straight from the female’s perspective, that there’d be a little bit more of an impact, right? Well, that’s the problem here – there isn’t. Instead, director Sophie Barthes just shows Emma’s actions, over and over again, without much of any tension or narrative driving it. Rather than understand full-well why it is that Emma wants to screw around so much on her husband and spend all of his money in places she shouldn’t be, making us at least understand her, and somewhat stand behind her back, the movie mostly portrays Emma as being a bit of mopey, unlikable, and needy brat.
Which wouldn’t be so bad had the movie been maybe an hour-and-a-half where we didn’t have to see Emma constantly make the same mistakes, over and over again, but that’s not the case. The movie goes on for at least two hours, to where we see the mistakes being made, she hardly ever learns, and it’s hard to care. Not to mention the fact that the movie actually starts off with Emma’s death early-on, so much rather than actually building to that shocking climax, the movie already shoots its gun too early and makes it easy for us to all connect the dots.
This isn’t to say that Mia Wasikowska doesn’t do a fine job as the title character, because she does, it’s just a role that sees her sort of going through the motions. Of course, she may not have been challenged all that much to begin with, but there’s a lot of Wasikowska just looking drab, bored and sad, which makes sense at certain points with this character, but at the same time, feels repetitive. Also, the fact that Wasikowska absolutely killed it in another period piece not too long ago (“Jane Eyre“), makes this performance sort of seem like an after-thought and shows that maybe Wasikowska doesn’t need to bother with them anymore.
And then, there’s her suitors, who all try just as much as Wasikowska does, but they too seem to fall on dead ears. It may seem like a weird role for somebody as modern as Ezra Miller to play a character in a period piece, but surprisingly, he works well with it. There’s no sense of irony to anything he does or says, and more often than not, seems like a reasonable enough guy to fall in love with Bovary, although he mostly falls into the background of a character people lose interest in. Ditto for Logan Marshall-Green who seems to be ready to charm the socks off of Emma Bovery, but instead, just looks at her and all of a sudden, she’s absolutely smitten.
If only it was that easy in real life.
But the real performance I want to talk about from this whole movie that’s probably the most interesting anecdote it had to offer was Rhys Ifans’ Monsieur Lheureux. Even though Lheureux initially seems like a sweet, likable and honest businessman who actually is looking out for Emma and her expenses, he eventually starts to edge on over the other way. He’s very easy to extend her as much credit as she oh so desires, he doesn’t care how much time or effort it takes for him to get the goods that she wants, and he doesn’t even bother his head as to when he will get the money back; he just knows that he one day will.
Ifans is so good at oozing charm, that it makes it all the more scary when he turns the other cheek and shows ulterior motives. People who have read the book will know what happens with this character, but for those who don’t, it will come as an absolute and complete shock, all thanks to Ifans’ work here. Even though, yes, Paul Giamatti is around too, he doesn’t get nearly as much as Ifans and it’s quite surprising what he’s able to do with so very little.
Consensus: Occasionally engaging, if only due to the performances, Madame Bovary suffers from the fact that it’s too repetitive and bland to really get over that hurdle that so many period pieces as of late seem to get over.
5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire03