Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Rated:  R

STARS: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson
DIRECTOR: John Crowley
GENRE: Drama

I was pretty stoked to see the film adaptation of Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Goldfinch. I read the book--all 800 or so pages of it--and heartily concurred that it was deserving of every accolade it received. A literary masterpiece.

Bringing any novel to the screen is always a dicey proposition, and in this case director John Crowley (Brooklyn) and company certainly had their work cut out for them. The Goldfinch is about a young boy who loses his mother in a terrorist bombing. It's about his tenuous relationship with a young girl who has also suffered loss. It's about his relationship with his drug-addled Russian buddy, Boris. It's about his relationship with an avuncular furniture restorer and antique dealer who becomes his mentor. But primarily it's about his relationship with a fabled piece of art--the haunting image of a goldfinch tethered to a chain by the 17th century painter Carel Fabritius (which actually exists, though the story around it is fictionalized). It's a relationship that follows the classic rom-com formula of boy gets girl/boy loses girl/boy fights to get girl back. 

The scope of the novel goes far beyond the bare bones plot points I've provided. What makes it a classic is the fiery brilliance of Donna Tartt's prose, which unfortunately doesn't get translated to the silver screen--especially since she had no hand in the writing of the screenplay.

But I believe every film should stand as its own independent work of art, regardless of the source material. That's giving it a big break from the get-go. I'll just assume I haven't read the book. Now show me what you've got. The Goldfinch does a pretty good job of staying faithful to the main plot points of the novel, presented through flash backs and flash forwards a-plenty. But it's slow as the molasses in January for the first two-thirds of its two and a half hour running time. Slow and inexplicably devoid of any compelling emotional thrust to drive it forward. It seems as aimless as our young protagonist, Theo (Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley), as he grows into young adulthood trying to find himself. It picks up in the latter stages, as things hang in the balance and Theo must take decisive action to turn his unprincipled life around.

The incomparable Nicole Kidman, as the kindly woman who takes the young Theo in after the death of his mother, is a work of art in her own right, looking younger with each film she makes. The rest of the cast has a few names you may be familiar with (Sarah Paulson, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson) and a lot that you won't. If you've read the novel and you're a ne'er-do-well with too much time on your hands, go ahead and see the film, and let me know if you concur with my assessment. If you haven't read the book, make it a clean sweep and skip this not-so-clever
forgery as well.

Grade:  C


Like Tim, I read the book and remembered liking it a lot. However, I didn't remember most of the plot details until the movie reminded me of them. Unfortunately, I have to concur with Tim's molasses metaphor. My lids were getting heavier and heavier until our main character went to Texas to live with his classic bullshitter of a dad and met Young Boris. For me, that's when The Goldfinch came alive.

Finn Wolfhard, a still-in-high-school actor from Vancouver, Canada, is totally brilliant as the street savvy Russian kid whose violent childhood has made him a crafty but charming survivor. That actor deserves an Oscar nod, for sure.

I liked the fact that the cast was full of unknowns. It made the movie seem less Hollywoodish. The Young Theo was ably played by Oakes Fegley, who has only one screen credit. He played Pete in the remake of Disney's Pete's Dragon. (By the way, I used to be married to one of the composers of the musical version of that same film, Joel Hirschhorn.)

And another unknown-to-me actor, Ansel Elgort, played the Adult Theo with equal believability. Problem here is, the movie made his character seem emotionally frozen. It works in the book. In the film, it gets a bit monotonous.

I loved the visual contrasts. From a cluttered antique store, to a deserted Texas housing development, to Broadway in all its nighttime glory. The director took his time—probably too much—shooting scenes that looked themselves like art pieces. I wish I hadn't read the book. I would've enjoyed the movie more.

Not to parrot my last review, but if you decide to see The Goldfinch, please stay for the credits. You will, for very different reasons than Young Theo, fall in love with Carel Fabritius' masterpiece.

Grade: B -

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