Does the change of gender matter? That might depend on whether you enjoy Moore’s brand of tragedy. She’s drawn to tearjerkers, or perhaps I should say melodramas. Some of her great successes have been roles in which she was crying or dying or both (Far From Heaven, The Hours, Still Alice). Putting her opposite Williams, whose style is more minimalist, makes for some crackling scenes here, but they are not really enough to sustain the movie.
Freundlich is a sensitive storyteller. The question then becomes how well he tells the surprise. If he pushes the emotions too hard, it becomes mawkish, although that’s just where some of the audience will want it to be. When a story earns it, most of us are happy to give up some tears; this one only thinks it does. That kills emotion, offering a facsimile of drama rather than the real thing.
Director Ron Howard’s film is largely made up of clips from Luciano Pavarotti’s 45-year-long opera career, plus interviews with those who loved and worked with him – including Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Angela Gheorghiu, Madelyn Renee and his third wife, Nicoletta Mantovani. Reviewer Paul Byrnes says Bono and Terri Robson, his last manager, give interesting insight into his final years, “when he was more of a stadium attraction than an opera singer. There’s also a glimpse of the ruthless business dealings of earlier managers Tibor Rudas and Herbert Breslin – though no mention of the spectacular break-up with the latter. He told Clive James in an interview from the 1980s that he never knew if he was going to be able to reach the high Cs that made him famous. He was genuinely afraid before each performance”.
“That Pavarotti is worthy of an in-depth documentary is indisputable. The doubt is that this is actually “in depth”, as enjoyable as it is. Howard knows how to make it emotional and appealing, to make us love the man as well as the extraordinary voice, as he skims the surface of a grand life and career. That he does that with a man who was sometimes appalling in his behaviour towards others is itself a feat. In this case that’s largely by omission.
Howard comes not to bury Caesar but to praise him. The clownish years of Pavarotti’s late career, the accusation of lip-syncing, the pettiness of his derisory opinions about his rivals (even those he counted as friends such as Domingo) do not feature.
Nor is there much analysis of the man’s place in opera history, except to plonk him atop the list of greatest Italian tenors of the past 150 years. No-one mentions the narrowness of his range nor the disasters when he went outside it.
Howard is honest enough to admit, as Pavarotti did, that the singer had many faults, especially as a father and husband. There were many women while he was married to the long-suffering and generous Adua Veroni, who bore him three daughters. She eventually forgave him as he lay dying in 2007.
His lovely daughters speak frankly, although I got the feeling they might have wanted to say a lot more. It’s clear that whatever else he may have done, his daughters knew they were loved. Pavarotti’s heart was as large as his voice.
If Howard does not go deep, he does capture the man’s humour, his generosity of spirit and a few surprising aspects of the biography.
He wanted to be remembered as someone who took opera to the people. The Three Tenors concerts and recordings certainly achieved that.
It is clear that Pavarotti’s voice brought pleasure and joy to many millions who do not go to opera houses. We’ll have to wait for a film that digs deeper on how he did that, but this one will do nicely in the meantime.
Blinded By The Light ★★★½
Pakistani teenager Javed (Viveik Kalra) lives in Luton – the depressed heart of Thatcher’s England – where the unemployment figures are rising rapidly. He has just started at a new high school, with an ambition to be a writer, when his overbearing father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) loses his job at the local car plant. His older sister is about to be married and his mother is having to labour even harder at the piece work she does for a clothing factory. One night after a friend gives him a tape of Bruce Springsteen’s biggest hits, Javed develops an acute case of Springsteen fever.
“Blinded by the Light is another coming-of-age film from Gurinder Chadha, the British-Indian director who made her breakthrough in 2002 with Bend It Like Beckham,” writes reviewer Sandra Hall. “This time, she’s working from a memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, a British journalist of Pakistani heritage, who credits his love of Springsteen’s music with its life-changing properties.
It’s an idea that has inspired Chadha to wrap Mazoor’s recollections of his angst-ridden adolescence into a film that she sees as a ‘hybrid musical’. It’s not exactly MGM revisited. Javed and friends don’t launch abruptly into intricate routines a la Kelly and Astaire.
But they do dance in the street and dialogue segues into song when Javed decides – as he often does – that Springsteen’s lyrics serve him better than his own words.
The script takes us through the rites of passage familiar from teen movies the world over. Javed finds a girlfriend (Nell Williams) who understands him, his English teacher (Hayley Atwell) encourages his desire to write and he chafes against his father’s powerful urge to decide his future. The story’s point of difference lies in the sordid fact that the bully boys of the resurgent National Front are doing their utmost to make life miserable for Javed’s family and their fellow Pakistanis.
But the power of Springsteen’s lyrics proves useful here, too. Chadha’s Britain is a place where optimism triumphs and the pleasures of food, music, art and writing are accorded the influence they would have only in an ideal world.
She also makes sure that each character evolves from the stereotypes she gives us at the start. Kalra, who was studying at a drama school in Wales when Chadha cast him, is a real find. He could come across as an self-obsessed kid but he invests Javed with the right mixture of modesty, spirit and humour.
The film’s hybrid form produces a certain unevenness. Nonetheless, you come out on a high. Springsteen fever proves to be contagious.”
In 1953 when five-year-old Robert stops baby Angela crying by lending her his teddy bear the pair’s Italian-Australian parents take it as a sign. Fans of arranged marriages, they immediately decide their children are made for each other. Jump to 1974, Angela (Antoinette Iesue) is at university, hoping to become a writer, and Robert (Daniel Berini) has just returned from Oxford with a law degree. Her adolescent crush on him has waned and she’s decided she’s in love with someone else. Nonetheless, her father still has hopes.
“It seems writer-director Nick Conidi is working from experience here,” writes reviewer Sandra Hall. “In 1969, when he was nine, his father began to nurture the thought he should grow up to marry the daughter of one of his friends. Then came the sexual revolution and the tradition was swept away.
So in this story, he turns back the clock a few years to catch this venerable institution when some Italian-Australian parents were still trying to make it work.
Even by the sartorial standards of the 1970s, new boyfriend Tom (Santo Tripodi) looks dodgy, with a faux leather jacket and a conman’s moustache. Robert, on the other hand, is charming, smart and easy-going and gives every sign of believing marriage to Angela might be a good idea.
In other words, Promised is as old-fashioned as its theme. Although Angela is reading The Female Eunuch, her own ambitions as a writer are concentrated on romantic fiction and Conidi looks to be following the same example. Tom is shaping up as a classic Mills & Boon bad boy while Robert is clearly the kind of man a Mills & Boon heroine falls for when good sense finally kicks in.
To its credit, the film resists any temptation to do a Fat Pizza and make a cartoon out of Italo-Australian customs and attitudes. Cast as Angela’s father, Paul Mercurio pulls back before his performance can tip over into caricature and Tina Arena, as her mother, works hard to maintain her role as the voice of reason.
It’s not a particularly stylish film. The lighting is flat and the script struggles towards the end in coming up with stratagems to delay the inevitably happy ending but there’s a simmering good humour to it and a sense of reality that turns its ordinariness into a virtue.”
READY OR NOT ★★★
Grace (Samara Weaving), the heroine of horror-comedy Ready or Not, grew up in foster homes and is about to marry into the upper-crust Le Domas family, who made their fortune through games of various sorts, starting with playing cards during the Civil War. Along the way, they’ve been assisted by some version of Satan, or so the family mythology maintains. Grace’s new husband Alex (Henry Czerny) has neglected to inform her of this and the post-wedding tradition that in order to qualify as a true Le Domas she must play a game of hide and seek at midnight with the rest of the clan. Reviewer Jake Wilson finds Grace is not “a stock damsel in distress, nor the tomboy type so often seen in horror movies either”.
“Weaving, the niece of actor Hugo Weaving, incidentally, has a bit of mean girl energy: depending on the lighting, she can look like a porcelain beauty, or her features can stand out starkly, especially her eyes and teeth. Grace, in fact, is a tough cookie, with a notably foul mouth (shared by most of the characters in Ready or Not, which has been contrived by screenwriters Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy to receive the American censorship rating known as a ‘hard R’).
The improbable premise of Ready or Not, directed by another two-man team, Matt Bettinelli-Olsen and Tyler Gillett, is so convoluted it nearly defies summary.
The comic side of the film stems mostly from the interplay between the other Le Domases, a quarrelsome lot who suggest a less endearing version of the Addams family.
Andie MacDowell is used quite effectively as Grace’s mother-in-law Becky, whose ruthlessness is accompanied by a certain degree of warmth. But nearly all the best lines go to Adam Brody as Alex’s cynical, alcoholic brother Daniel, a type out of 1930s screwball who supplies a wry running commentary on the escalating mayhem.
Satanism is another subject that has crept back into American movies in recent years, and the film is in tune with the zeitgeist in its satire of the class sometimes known as the ‘1 per cent’. But moralising isn’t a priority.
For all its gruelling moments, Ready or Not is not attempting to be seriously disturbing, or to offer us anything more than a macabre good time. Still, on that level the film delivers.
Paul Byrnes is a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Jake Wilson is a film critic for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Sandra Hall is a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.