Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Rebecca (2020): A Review (Review #1425)


The tale of the second Mrs. de Winter metaphorically haunted by her predecessor has its most famous adaptation in the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film, his only film to win Best Picture. A 1997 television adaptation earned the late Dame Diana Rigg an Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries/Movie Emmy Award. Now Netflix has decided to challenge The Master of Suspense with its own version of Rebecca. Apart from one good leading performance, this Rebecca has nothing to offer other than a thin sheen of elegance.

A young but poor lady's companion is swept into a whirlwind romance to the mysterious Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). She soon becomes the second Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) and goes to his palatial estate, Manderley.

Manderley is run by the shadowy Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), but the second Mrs. de Winter fears that she will never earn Maxim's love, let alone escape the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca. However, things are not as they appear, and perhaps far from being the great love of his life, Rebecca was a villainness, one who can still ruin their lives from beyond the grave. What exactly are the secrets Rebecca took to the grave, ones that involve her cousin/lover Jack Favell (Sam Riley)? Will Maxim and the second Mrs. de Winter find happiness despite the malevolent forces of the dead Rebecca and the live Mrs. Danvers?

It surprises me that three people adapted Du Maurier's novel, two of them women (Jane Goldman, Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel) given that there isn't a drop of romance within it. This isn't to say that women can write only about romance or that men can't, but that with three people they couldn't bring Du Maurier's novel come to life.

Instead, they and director Ben Wheatley made certain parts play almost like parody. There's a scene where the de Winter granny comes to tea, and in her confusion about who this woman is (as she's certainly not Rebecca) it played like a joke more than a drama, let alone a romance. The entire scene was funny, not serious. Moreover, there was no real buildup to it, let alone to who Beatrice (Keely Hawes) and Giles (John Hollingworth) are. There was more drama when Robert, a poor servant, was about to be charged with theft than there was with anything involving Maxim and his Missus.

The height of hilarity is with Ben (Ben Crompton), the strange man living in the boathouse. One wonders what he's doing there, popping up and spouting dire warnings with nary a rhyme or reason.

Rebecca also has mostly miss acting. To be fair Lily James may not score a homerun but she does manage a respectable triple as the second Mrs. de Winter, mostly convincing that she is this mousy figure who slowly grows to a strong woman. Mostly, for at times she doesn't appear to be genuinely frightened by anything, let alone Mrs. Danvers. Worse, at the end the last glimpse of the second Mrs. de Winter comes across as almost demonic, as if she become the new Rebecca.

Armie Hammer is a very handsome man and has the obligatory shirtless scene at the end, but he is as British as a baguette, and as intimidating as one. If he was meant to be British Hammer failed miserably, sounding very much like an American. Moreover, Hammer never seemed to change his expression, one of perpetual anger (perhaps after realizing what movie he was stuck in). He never came across as brooding or lost, but merely short-tempered and quickly irritated, making one wonder why any woman would want to be with him besides of his looks.

Also, what was the deal with his bright yellow suit? It just looks strange.

Scott Thomas did what she could with Mrs. Danvers, but she never came across as the antagonist to the second Mrs. de Winter or as one obsessed with the first Mrs. de Winter. She instead looked more obnoxious than menacing. Riley too did what he could with Jack, and to his credit did better than most save James, his Jack not as dull as most everyone else. 

Rebecca is a snooze-fest, one where you soon start not caring about these people. It was a bad choice for Clint Mansell's score to start as so spooky, for it seemed to suggest a horror film versus a Gothic romance. Apart from James there isn't much here that would make anyone want to go back to Manderley again. 


Saturday, October 24, 2020

2 Hearts: A Review (Review #1424)


2 Hearts is being sold as a lush, romantic drama with two interconnected stories that span generations. They are interconnected, though it takes a long time to have them connect. That connection, however, along with a bizarre framing, gives it an almost ghoulish feel that makes 2 Hearts come across as almost farcical, which does this true-life story wrong.

Mostly narrated in voiceover by Chris Gregory (Jacob Elordi), we get both his story and that of Jorge/George Bolivar (Adan Canto). For most of 2 Hearts, it seems like they are parallel stories.

Jorge, the scion of a Cuban rum empire family, has a condition that eventually requires him to have part of his lung removed. He defies the odds again and again, living past 20 to 30 and beyond, when he encounters beautiful Pan Am stewardess Leslie (Radha Mitchell). They eventually marry but are unable to have children. Despite this, they remain very much in love until Jorge's conditions deteriorates to where unless he gets a lung transplant he will die.

Into the future, happy-go-lucky Chris is also a bit lackadaisical towards college until he meets the love of his life, Sam (Tiera Skovbye). She's a bit more sensible than our wisecracking, slightly doofus Chris but not bright enough to figure out he's totally into her, down to making the enormous sacrifice of getting his driver's license just so he could drive in the Safety Buddies program she heads. 

Here's where things get tricky. As Chris has been narrating both stories, usually with quips, he has a sudden health emergency. It appears that he does recover, continuing his narration and finding that, unlike the Bolivars, he and Sam do marry and have a child, Sam's love maturing him into a responsible, loving father and successful ETM.

Then Chris tells us that's not what happened. In reality, Chris dies suddenly at 19, and somewhat reluctantly his parents allow his organs to be given to those waiting for transplants, saving five lives including Jorge. Eventually the families meet, form a bond and the Bolivars create "Gabriel's House of Care" as a place where families of transplant recipients/donors can shelter through the health crisis.

Organ donation is a very important issue, and the work that the Bacardi family has done with Gabriel's House of Care is worthy of recognition. 2 Hearts, based on Chris' father Eric's memoir All My Tomorrows, decided however to focus on their disparate love stories,all but making their significant contribution almost an afterthought; there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it sight of organ recipient families in the hospital lobby and what should be the spark of inspiration instead ends up being treated as a blip.

Director Lance Hool and co-screenwriters Robin U. Russin and Veronica Hool (there are many Hools behind 2 Hearts in writing, directing, producing and casting) made perhaps the most ghastly decision with the voiceover. Apart from being a bane of my existence, Chris' voiceovers start out as merely grating and end up almost obscene. I don't know why apparently they looked on Sunset Boulevard as inspiration for having our story narrated by a dead man. Worse, as voiced by Elordi, Chris comes across not as a rambunctious, fun fellow but as an idiot.

I'm not alone in this: at one point one of his friends asks him, "Why are you such an idiot?".

Perhaps the ugliest element is the entire post-coma segment. I don't know what the film was aiming for (perhaps a big, "shocking" twist) but given the whole thing was a fake-out, it struck me personally as almost ghoulish and manipulative to give us this fantasy when perhaps sticking to the truth would have done 2 Hearts better.

In terms of performances I was less than impressed. Despite being based on a true story the characters came across as fictional: not once did they go beyond stereotypes (gruff fathers, loyal females). Elordi's chief contribution was his physical beauty, for his Chris was sadly nowhere near interesting. Canto's Jorge was maybe older but still quite buff for someone who apparently could drop dead any moment. I mention this because 2 Hearts does give our males many opportunities to showcase their well-built torsos for reasons known only to them.

Acting-wise, the four leads looked almost bored (Canto and Mitchell) and/or sitcom-like (Elordi and Skovbye). You don't believe they were or are real, a terrible disservice to their real-life counterparts. Elordi and Skovbye especially suffered: no matter how hard they tried to sell the Chris/Sam romance they either are not skilled enough or were badly directed to make Chris and Sam come across as irritatingly "wacky" and forced "perky" respectively. 

Sometimes the film is almost comical, such as with Chris' brother John (Anthony Konechny). He has exactly one major scene where he objects to his brother's organs being donated, and 2 Hearts has apparently such little interest in John that at least once I did ask 'Who is this?' when he appeared. I think it's a fair complaint given Chris had more interaction with his fellow Loyola student/brother Colin (Jordan Burtchett). Sadly, that made John the "Chuck Cunningham" of 2 Hearts

I can't deny that 2 Hearts had an effect on viewers: I heard sniffles in the small audience the film had due to the pandemic. The audience didn't mind that 2 Hearts bounced back and forth between the 1960s and 2000s with almost reckless abandon. They didn't mind that 2 Hearts is a bit misleading: given the subject matter, it was the lungs not perhaps the expected heart that Jorge got. As a side note, I think Eric Gregory's original title All My Tomorrows actually works better than 2 Hearts, but that's just my view. 

The true story of Chris Gregory and Jorge Bacardi (changed to Bolivar in the film) is one worthy of knowing. The subjects of life, death, how both can appear and disappear quickly to young and old, as well as the importance of organ donation are important ones. 2 Hearts, however, felt it was more important to focus on a couple of bland "romances" where at least I grew to dislike Chris. Given the good he did in life and death, it's a bad way to offer tribute.