3 items from 2002
Who knew that beneath the facade of cool cynicism that is Neil LaBute -- or at least the Neil LaBute of his first two films, "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends & Neighbors" -- beats the heart of a wild romantic?
"Possession", which he directed and co-wrote with David Henry Hwang and Laura Jones, explores romantic desire in a devilishly clever screenplay based on A.S. Byatt's Booker Prize-winning novel. What propels everything in this film is a rapturous sense of passion -- for language, for England and literature and, most of all, for romance.
This film is aimed with no apologies at mature adults. Put it this way: A guy gets into bed with Gwyneth Paltrow, and his first impulse is to read poetry. We're in Merchant Ivory territory with a touch of Tom Stoppard's witty play "Arcadia", in which academic pursuits have emotional appeal. If marketed well by Focus Features, the film, despite succumbing to melodramatic excess, could become an art house hit.
"Possession" takes place in parallel time periods -- present day and the Victorian era. The surprise is that it's the moderns who are emotionally stunted, not the Victorians. Our two moderns are Roland (Aaron Eckhart), an American on a fellowship in London to study the great Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash, and Maud (Paltrow), an authority on Victorian poet Christabel LaMotte, who is her ancestor.
They meet professionally after Roland discovers two previously unknown drafts of letters by Ash that suggest a romantic liaison between him and LaMotte. Maud is too polite to laugh. Nevertheless, she does point out the unlikelihood of any relationship between Ash, known for poems dedicated to his beloved wife, and LaMotte, a feminist and lesbian.
As the literary detective work evolves, the movie transports us back into the lives of the two poets. Dashing Jeremy Northam is robust and coolly casual as Ash. The lovely Jennifer Ehle gives an exquisite portrait of a lady experiencing a new kind of passion, while the darkly beautiful Lena Headey, as Christabel's lover, Blanche, also experiences something new but deeply disturbing -- sexual jealousy.
The methodical work of true academic research gets left in the dust in this movie, where clues come more rapidly than in a murder mystery and the trail leads the researchers across England and even to France. What is marvelously fun -- and funny -- about this somewhat tongue-in-cheek portrait of the academicians is that they have less scruples than Cold War spies.
As romance blooms in parallel stories, the two couples' impulses are wildly different. The Victorians, whose foreplay is verbal rather than physical, respond to passions once they are declared. But the moderns, played with a nice balance between harmony and dissonance by Paltrow and Eckhart, initially stay aloof, fearing passion's flame and wary of its consequences.
In this film, LaBute indulges in a love for all things British from its dusty chambers and prestigious museums to cheerful London streets and rural splendors. Only foreigners -- the American director and his French cinematographer, Jean Yves Escoffier -- would lovingly transform Britain into a place so lushly romantic. Two Merchant Ivory veterans, designer Luciana Arrighi and costumer Jenny Beavan, are on hand to make certain the look of both periods has dramatic resonance.
The film goes over the top near the end with midnight grave-robbing and fights between academics. LaBute also has a tendency to hit his dramatic notes too hard, as if fearful audiences won't get the point. But these drawbacks are small compared to an otherwise witty, literate and mesmerizing bit of romantic escapism.
Focus Features and Warner Bros. Pictures present a Baltimore/Spring Creek Pictures production
Director: Neil LaBute
Screenwriters: David Henry Hwang, Laura Jones, Neil LaBute
Based on the novel by: A.S. Byatt
Producers: Paula Weinstein, Barry Levinson
Executive producers: David Barron, Len Amato
Director of photography: Jean Yves Escoffier
Production designer: Luciana Arrighi
Music: Gabriel Yared
Co-producer: Stephen Pevner
Costume designer: Jenny Beavan
Editor: Claire Simpson
Maud Bailey: Gwyneth Paltrow
Roland: Aaron Eckhart
Randolph Henry Ash: Jeremy Northam
Christabel LaMotte: Jennifer Ehle
Blanche Glover: Lena Headey
Ellen Ash: Holly Aird
Fergus Wolfe: Toby Stephens
Cropper: Trevor Eve
Running time -- 102 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
Gwyneth Paltrow's new boyfriend Aaron Eckhart is refusing to sleep with the sexy star. The Hollywood babe, who met Aaron on the set of the upcoming movie Possession, recently confessed she has difficulty keeping lovers because she wears them out in the bedroom. But she appears to have finally met her match in 34-year-old Eckhart--the hunk is very religious and doesn't believe in sex before marriage. A friend of Eckhart says, "Aaron has very strong convictions and doesn't give them up for anyone...He accepts the church's ruling that forbids pre-marital sex." But friends of Oscar-winner Gwyneth say the actress is so besotted with the Mormon actor, she's agreed to go without sex--and is even considering marrying him. Paltrow's pal says, "She's lost her heart to Aaron. We hear big things are planned for late this summer. People thought it was a joke when started dating, but now see the relationship is for real." »
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow is reportedly dating Aaron Eckhart, the leading man in her new movie, Possession. Gwyneth, who has a history of dating her co-stars including Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck, was spotted in Los Angeles restaurant Moomba before she flew into Britain to perform on the London stage. Paltrow has recently split with her fellow The Royal Tenenbaums actor Luke Wilson. »
3 items from 2002
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