Tag: Elle Fanning

Mary Shelley

Mary1It is apt that Haifaa Al Mansour, the first female feature filmmaker from Saudi Arabia, has made a movie about a subversive feminist from yesteryear. Mary Shelley tells the true story of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (as she was known at the time), the author of one of the greatest Gothic horrors ever written; Frankenstein. While the misogyny of the day might not have recognised her fictional monster staring back at them, this film makes it crystal clear the reasons for its creation. 

Set among the cloying mud and muck of early nineteenth century London, Mary’s ill-advised fling with the dashing poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), is in full swing. It is a romance that carries their elopement to Lord Byron’s bohemian holiday home where the first pages of her book were penned. As the dust settles on their relationship, we discover that Percy’s free-spirited and narcissist nature pushes Mary to the margins of his life. The casting of a very brooding and smouldering Elle Fanning (20th Century Women) matches a woman whose demeanour is one of hapless defiance.

The film only glances at her fascination with science, choosing instead to focus on other influences that brought about Mary’s lonely and neglected monster. Clearly, she saw herself as the creature of her creation: forlorn, outcast and abandoned.

Tonally, there are hints of Jane Campion’s Bright Star, minus the Kiwi director’s delicately infused feminist nuances or spell-binding cinematography.  This film is more conventional and literal in its scope, and screenwriter Emma Jensen’s rather safe approach to the subject matter might’ve benefitted from some more venom.  It is something that Fanning’s performance goes some way to compensate for. Her sullen portrayal is the driving force of this biopic and brings some rectifying depth to the film’s many double-entendres, innuendo and knowing looks.

As Mary says of her book; “It is a message for mankind” and it seems appropriate, in the current age of feminine resurgence, that this film has been made. And despite its conventional hand (and a slightly clumsy ending), Mary Shelley remains a fascinating and timely story.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

20th Century Women

txwAfter a well-received run at last year’s NZIFF, 20th Century Women finally gets some more big screen love. Brimming with warmth and wit, this enlightening if slightly meandering tale provides plenty of post-viewing conjecture to unpack.

Written and directed by Mike Mills (Beginners), one might ask how is it that a male is telling women’s stories—as the title suggests, this a film about 20th Century Women, right?  Well, not exclusively; it has a soft-natured feminist slant which develops further to show how female stories are often inextricably connected with male stories. 20th Century Women is loosely a biopic based on the real-life women who influenced Mills and is, in a sense, an ode to these women written by the man they helped shape.

Set in 1979, the film centres around a quintuplet of characters who all live in the same house. At the coalface of motherhood is Annette Bening who plays Dorothea; landlord, single mother, and compassionate matriarch who is struggling with what it means to bring up a son in a society bristling with cultural change. Likewise, her teenage son Jamie (played by Lucas Jade Zumann) has to endure the conflicting and bewildering world of advice and desires.

Dorothea’s large multi-story house is a do-up; boarder William (Billy Crudup) earns his keep by assisting with renovations. The other boarder is Abbie, played by the likeable Greta Gerwig whose free-spirited nature is pitted against her struggle with cancer.  And then there’s Julie (Elle Fanning), who doesn’t technically live in the house but comes and goes at her whim and sneaks in at night to sleep with Jamie. They don’t have sex, their relationship being purely platonic … at least according to her.

Despite being overly invested in life’s quandaries beyond its due, this earnest tale is liberally littered with enough existential insight and astute observations to be an enlightening and rewarding experience. And although it leans heavily on the performance of its superb ensemble cast there’s enough meat on its bones to be well-worth seeing on the big screen.
 

See my reviews for Witchdoctor here.