Sunday, February 21, 2010

Under 250: Bright Star

I really try to love Jane Campion. Her films are exquisitely beautiful and pastoral, their photographic landscape like paintings in a large airy museum. But Bright Star, like some of her other work (excluding the masterful Piano) it is too reliant on the images, the characters held at arms length, the ideas only partially formed. Romantic poet John Keats' (Ben Whishaw) love for Fanny Brawne (Abby Cornish) is a legendary one, mostly because of the film’s namesake, the sonnet “Bright Star.” One would expect that when retelling that story, when drawing out a live passion from the facts, that Campion would have fostered and built up that romantic tension, especially in a film about a Romantic giant. I'm not asking for Nicholas Sparks here, but at least a bit of outright attraction. This distance isn't cerebral, but simply detached.

Keats and Brawne never seem that connected, leaving the audience wondering where all that big poetic inspiration was coming from and why Keats was so smitten in the first place. Many pro-Bright Star critics will say that this film is a great feminist portrayal of a strong woman beside a famed man, deeply psychological and stirring, and Campion certainly tries to tell us that Fanny is just as creative, an innovative dressmaker and a strong personality. But she easily leaves that and any other defining things about Fanny behind, never fleshing out or communicating that strength beyond a few quips.

Campion also throws her characters to the audience with no context, the beginning a confusing mess of people and animosity that leaves the film on wobbly footing, especially for those unaware of the story of Keat’s life. Cornish and Whishaw do a fine acting job with what their given, but it’s not enough to overcome the pacing issues and the lack of strong connection between their characters as they were written in the screenplay. Unfortunately, Bright Star is all beauty and no bite, great to have in the background or for its poetic images, but best left on mute.

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