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The Hours

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Hours

Starring: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman
Director: Stephen Daldry
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: January 2002
Genre: Drama




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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Shortly into Stephen Daldry's "The Hours," adapted from the novel by Michael Cunningham by the great English playwright David Hare, I felt like sending out the Drumline folks with Christina Ricci and Kirsten Dunst to lead the cheers..."What do we want? Happiness! When do we want it? Now! "The Hours," which cunningly weaves three separate stories about three women's activities during the course of a single day, shows its principal characters in various stages of depression. Unfortunately the movie can reinforce the belief by some in the audience who do not distance themselves enough to see the three as literary figures connected in some way to Virginia Woolf's novel "Mrs. Dalloway" that quite a large number of women suffer from hormonal imbalances peculiar to the female gender: PMS, for example. A more studied look would reveal the three to be depressed for a variety of reasons, reasons that could put us men into a funk as well: and may we anticipate a sequel that would hone in on us males, the weaker sex?

Daldry faces an additional challenge: the women are from different eras in distinctly varied locations.. How to show that the more times change, the more they remain the same? Just watch, as "The Hours" explores, well, hours, in the lives of women from England in 1923, Los Angeles in 1951 and The Big Apple, 2001.

The film is framed by an event that actually occurred in 1941 in Sussex, England, where world-famous writer Virginia Woolf popped a large stone into her coat pocket, walked with determination into the local lake, and drowned herself. As elicited by the dialogue between Ms. Woolf (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Leonard Woolf (Stephen Dillane), Virginia has a history of hearing voices, blacking out, and feeling down down down to such an extent that Leonard moves the family from London to the sticks of Richmond. This ironically worsenes her condition, as a visit from her big-city sister Vanessa (Miranda Richardson) with three active kids in tow makes her realize what she misses by having left her urban life. Similarly suicidal, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), living in L.A. with her stolid husband Dan Brown (John C., Reilly) and their six-year-old Richie (Jack Rovello), feels terrible because Dan Brown does not look like Viggo Mortensen, baking cakes for her husband's birthday somehow does not fulfill her to the core, and the novel she's been reading, "Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf, gives her some funny ideas.. Clarissa Vaughan's funk is the most incomprehensible. Stopping by daily to take care of Richard Brown (Ed Harris), a poet who is dying of AIDS and does not feel particularly cheerful about that (and who happens to have been the six-year-old son of Laura Brown), Clarissa simply realizes that she had much more fun a decade earlier when she and Louis Waters (Jeff Daniels) were lovers. Louis, by the way, became the lover of Richard Brown but more or less abandoned him when Richard developed full-blown AIDS.

So you see, we're all connected. Virginia Woolf starts the cycle of history, Laura Brown reads her novel, and Clarissa Vaughan takes care of the son of the woman who read the novel., Photographer Seamus McGarvey captures the spirit of each era, setting the 1920s in sepia while the innocent fifties almost breaks into the pastel colors of "Far from Hollywood." Peter Boyle edits sharply, moving freely from one decade to the other, allowing everyone in the audience to see clearly how the women are psychologically bound with one another. For example, when Virginia is lying on her side, Boyle cuts into Laura, who is reposing in the same manner.

And oh yes, there is a lesbian motif, as the frustrated Virginia kisses her sister Vanessa on the lips while little Richard watches in awe; the cake-baking Laura puckers up for her sister, Kitty (Toni Collette); then, we are not surprised to watch a little intimacy between the contemporary Clarissa with her live-in girlfriend, Sally Lester (Allison Janney). One distinguished online critic faulted the film largely because in his view the lesbianism is dated as a theme, making this in his estimation the sort of story that would attract tourist busses from Virginia crammed with women who would show up at the box office in a desperate attempt to become shocked. I see the lesbian theme as minor, though, the real story being a psychological exploration of women from different decades who share perpetual feelings of doom and gloom.

Ultimately, the story is much ado about nothing. What is funny in watching Woody Allen give in to his neuroses and Nicolas Cage (in "Adaptation") opening his film comically with profound self- doubts is treated in a serious fashion here, but the whole project is literary more than cinematic. We do get into the heads of the characters, but Michael Cunningham's novel, which I have not read, is probably the better way to absorb this tale of trouble.

The make-up is astonishing. Does anyone doubt that Paul Engelen, who made Ms. Kidman actually plain by fitting her with Conor O'Sullivan and Jo Allen's prosthetic nose; and Kerry Warn who gives Ms. Kidman a hair style that almost makes you understand why Woolf is depressed, are Oscar-bound for their particular talents? Ditto for Elaine Offers, who ages Julianne Moore fifty years with just the right assortment of wrinkles to say nothing of Philip Glass's eerie, signature music, which moves the plot right along.

"The Hours" won "Best Picture" from the National Board of Review, which is a stretch, but who wants to argue personal taste? "The Hours" is a tribute to the unseen people in the crew, the aforementioned make-up artists, who assure us that while people do not change deep down, they can project wildly different surfaces. Now which of these backstage geniuses wants to turn me into Tom Cruise?

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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