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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Guinevere opens with lovely opening credits showing various body part
photos. It soon unveils its plot detail of a nearly 30-year age
difference between lovers Connie (Rea) and Harper (Polley). The film
conveys a quiet suspense, at least until the final act. Will this
particular romance break Connie's sad, Rod Stewart-like dating pattern?
Good performances by all, especially the women. No one does tortured indie girl on the inside/ethereal WASP on the outside better than Polley. Jean Smart, as others here have mentioned, is a scene stealer when she gives Connie a piece of her prickly mind. Gina Gershon and Sandra Oh are on too briefly.
Despite these strengths, I had this nagging feeling I was watching something disingenuous. Someone who looks like Harper never got hit on in college, if ever? Was she that wrapped up in herself so as not to observe others? In a scene where Harper is grabbing coffees from a café counter, a young male employee and an older male customer are checking her out, and she knows it. Nothing about her looks different, except for her more frequent grin and a bright blue tank top. I'm assuming that her new confidence is radiating and that's what's catching guys' eyes, but come on.
Big spoiler: Near the end, alcoholism takes its toll on Connie. So, how to prepare for his death? Gather the ex-girlfriends for a pre-memorial, of course! At least he didn't racially discriminate when choosing lovers; it was just the pesky age thing for him. Soon after, he is given an eye roller of a group photo of the exes, and before he dies Harper describes the afterlife (purgatory?) to him -- complete with visuals that rival a cosmetics ad.
A much better story about a photographer in an odd relationship is Proof, starring Hugo Weaving.
Although the concept of this film is wonderful, especially for photographers, the story line doesn't hold together. By the end of the movie you can't create empathy for the two main characters and you just want them to kill each other and get it over with. If you're a photographer and want a film that touches on the relationships between a photographer and a model, check out The Governess instead.
Sarah Polley will be a force to be reckoned with over the next few years.
Her body of work to date in ensemble pieces such as Go and The Sweet
Hereafter have been impressive, and now, as a lead in Guinevere, she
demonstrates just how strong an lead actress she can be.
Guinevere is the story of a young girl coming of age in an disfunctional upper-middle class family. Polley plays Harper, the shy youngest child. In the opening scene her sister is getting married, and Harper is hiding in the back room nervously gulping back a bottle of champagne. When her mother (played by Jean Smart of Designing Women) finds her, Harper is chastised and told to go and find her sister, who is mysteriously absent. The sister is apparently upset, or perhaps has cold feet. Jean Smart's Deborah Sloane quips back, "Tell her to get over her Greek Tragedy and get down here now!"
Harper strikes up a conversation with the wedding photographer, Connie, played by Stephen Rae. Sucking back more champagne she tells him she doesn't like having her photograph taken. When the time comes to photograph the family Connie slyly edges her out of the photograph. Harper is suddenly smitten with the man.
Connie is somewhat slovenly, a bit of drinker, and older than both of Harper's parents. The photographs come back and it is noticed that she is not in the family portraits. This is concern until they find a separate, candid shot of Harper. This one, which looks fabulous, has been blown up and signed by Connie. From there, a forbidden romance blossoms.
Harper moves in with Connie, telling her family that she is living with friends. He insists that she learn an 'art form' such as photography. Harper becomes his protege, learning about the camera, about life and about love (?).
This may sound corny, but the film works very well. Harper learns some nasty truths about the real world. Most of Connie's friends are bohemian artists. Connie instructs her to take pictures of that which is ugly, for it is the only way she will come to appreciate her craft. He takes her to the bedside of a friend who is suffering the DT's. Harper tries to take a picture of the man shaking and moaning before her, but she is disgusted and disturbed when suddenly he pees on her.
There are some great performances throughout the film. I loved watching Sarah Polley. Not only is she a natural beauty, but there is a definitive personality up there on screen. She isn't the typical twenty-something smart-ass, but rather a person with a conscience and real intelligence. As beautiful and rich as this character is, I believe, because Sarah Polley is playing her, that she would shack up with this drunken, not so-hot-looking, older man.
For Stephen Rae, this is the best thing I have seen him in since The Crying Game. As per his typical style, Rae plays a subdued role, not stepping over the performances of his co-stars. There is some genuine acting up there from him, but without the screeching 'give-me-an-Oscar!' rant that even this character might have demonstrated in the hands of another actor.
Jean Samrt was a delight to watch and perhaps the biggest surprise. She has played this cold monster in previous roles, but never with such depth. As Deborah Sloane, she wants the family unit to work, but has become conditioned enough to believe that any attempt to make it so would be futile. Her big scene comes when she confronts the the couple on their relationship. I won't repeat her dialogue here because after the film I realized how important it was to the heart of the story, but suffice it to say, the words were powerful, and the delivery was first rate. The character is despised because she sees a truth that the lead actors, and maybe even the audience, refuse to face.
Guinevere is a fantastic film that I hope is remembered at Oscar time. All three actors deserve recognition for their work and Audrey Wells should be considered for the writing as there is some unforgettable dialogue. This is not just a film about an older guy and a younger girl. This is a film about an artist, a student and their art. Brilliant work!!!
It's wonderful to see a woman's name at the helm of a feature film. Audrey Wells has written and directed `Guinevere', the story of a young woman's coming of age. Harper Sloane (Sarah Polley) has just graduated college and is preparing to enter Harvard Law School. On the day of her sister's marriage she meets the wedding photographer, Connie Fitzpatrick (Stephen Rea), and begins a Pygmalion-like relationship with him. The character of Fitzpatrick is somewhat reminiscent of that of Noel Airman in the 50's novel `Marjorie Morningstar' by Herman Wouk. Airman too is idolized by teens as he directs them in amateur theatrics in a New York summer resort. In a pivotal scene with Harper's mother (Jean Smart), Fitzpatrick is confronted with his own shortcomings. Smart has two or three biting scenes in the film where she demonstrates that her artistry is not limited to the sitcom mediocrity of `Designing Women'. Wells has filmed this tale with a fine feminine sensibility that definitely makes the audience care about the characters. The romantic aspects of the plot are tastefully handled, as is the bittersweet ending.
Sarah Polley fans, especially ones going all the way back to "Ramona",
are generally big-time "Guinevere" (1999) fans simply because it is the
film in which she peaked physically. And Director Audrey Wells picked
up on this during casting, seeing in Polley (at that time of her life)
someone physically perfect to play her heroine Harper Sloane. Wells
needed a young woman who simply glowed in front of the camera, whose
face looked better "without" make-up, and who projected both innocence
and restlessness. With Polley she also got a bonus, one of the most
talented actresses of her generation.
In this sense Wells resembles Alfred Hitchcock, a director with an uncanny ability to identify actresses at the one moment of their lives when they are physically perfect for a particular role. Sylvia Sidney in "Sabotage", Nova Pilbeam in "Young and Innocent", and Joan Fontaine in "Rebecca" come to mind.
Wells, who also wrote ''The Truth About Cats and Dogs'', captures that moment in some young women's lives (yes, the film could be considered a feminist statement) when they are able to break free of expectations and programming. The Harper Sloane character seems so authentic and the portrayal so lacking in glib cynicism that it most likely has a lot of autobiographical elements.
Harper is tracking along toward Harvard Law School when she meets Cornelius Fitzpatrick (Stephen Rea), a middle-aged Irish artist who has been hired to photograph her sister's wedding. His well-practiced seduction technique and irreverent world-view causes a major attitude adjustment and she abandons her career track to become his protégé and lover.
The story is told from Harper's point of view and the viewer soon learns along with her that this is not the traditional "Pygmalion" scenario. While not exactly a rogue and a roué, "Connie" is a compulsive Henry Higgins who has repeatedly played this game with repressed young women. He goes into these relationships with a five-year time limit. Consistent with the POV factor,
Harper's story is told with intelligence and compassion, with a lot of emphasis on the fragility of a first love and the pain of a trust betrayed. The film's feminist slant is revealed not so much by what is explicitly shown but by its failure to bring any dimensionality to Connie's character. No clues are provided to explain his aversion to a long-term commitment, Harper discovers that his promises are empty ones but she never learns the roots of his insecurities.
Although Polley's best scenes are those with Carrie Preston, who plays her best friend and confidante; the most entertaining scenes are those with her mother (Jean Smart), an unstated version of Susan's mother on "Seinfeld". The dysfunctional nature of Harper's family and her mother's unfulfilled life are slowly and somewhat comically revealed, but the bottom line is that her mother is sincerely trying to shield her daughter from mistakes.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Screenwriters first pick their home planet. For Audrey Wells, that is the skeleton of mild self-reference and the flesh of personal drama. That means she makes delicate stories that superficially appear to be centered on those small dramas. Uncareful viewers will actually believe it is `about' these characters and their lives.
But the basic form is different, leveraging the handling of the self-reference. In `Cats and Dogs,' the selfrerefential skeleton is the folding of projection of personality: personality through a (radio) medium and in `reality' within a (film) medium. On that, you assemble some episodes that both appeal and which leverage the folding.
Here, a similar folding device: a collection of images about making images. Building a life equated with the ability to build images. The film as life, the images carefully composed.
Why I like this film: the entire crew knew precisely what they were doing. Each chapter stands on its own, the plot which links them together is secondary, a simple necessity. Each chapter is an image, a visual tone poem, sculpted around a single, breathtaking shot:
--the small sexy role playing at the wedding condensed into a motion with a necklace (this first one literally turned into a photograph so we get the point)
--seduction by long division
--the artist getting urinated on
--the mother's face right up against the daughter's saying I know what you do
--reconciliation by the exposing of a foot
--the rooftop chair
--our female queen hesitantly standing in the parking lot
--a wonderful expression of distance in the cool observation of the remarkably vulnerable Grace Una
--and of course bookended by the photograph of the Guiniveres
Many others, but those stick. Yes there is some fine acting, but it works because these actors had local images to fill, and the creator of those images to guide them.
Rea doesn't have the edge he would need if this were a conventional drama. But it isn't. He is not a person in the way these woman are.
The title name was not lightly chosen, I believe, but intended to reference the magical part of image: the holy quest made personal.
Ted's evaluation: 3 of 4 -- Worth watching
Another example of how insightful writing and excellent acting gets you nowhere in today's slam-bang movie market. Audrey Wells creates one of the finest films to date written and directed by a woman. Are offers flying in to make another? Doubt it very much. She came up with a treasure based on character and an original storyline. But there wasn't a gun in sight, people were not terrorizing each other, we had no impossible stunts to marvel at and it wasn't until the final scene we finally got our special effects fix. But the sum total was much more unique than any number of Armageddons/Independence Days & co. So who noticed? Not the Academy Awards, where Wells did not even receive a Best Original Screenplay nomination. Sarah Polley gives one of the great ingenue performances ever. Stephen Rea is wonderful in the male lead. All overlooked. Get this one for your DVD library folks. It can be savoured again and again. But don't delay, it will soon be out of print, no doubt.
who ever is interested. i stumbled on this movie completely by accident, and once i began i couldn't stop.you know why? it was true. i just got it. i got it because i was just leaving a relationship like that, that i think- marked me for life. this movie shows something so true, true in a sense that their is no right or wrong, and in some way it really makes me think. it makes me see things in perspective, relationships, and how we fail to observe them while engaged in them. once i saw this movie- i felt i was looking at myself, and also not hating my ex-partner (a very much disturbed older paragrapher. off course- it made me view it in a very romantic way, that i enjoyed. it was painterly to see in harper how innocent i am.or was. for sure- i am no longer at that stage in life. thanks to him.he wasn't a bad guy- and i was too blinded to see how mixed up he was.
Actors with more chemistry might have pulled it off better, but the
setbacks were the lack of cleverness in the script and absence of a magic
the tale seemed to have been meant to convey. The manipulations were trite
and unoriginal, and the idea of the older man being a mentor to a young
in spite of age and personal problems was fairly unbelievable in this
instance. Not enough growth and realization, not enough of a connection
achieved before their time expired. Stephen Rea was almost too cool to be
believable as such a screwed up and insecure man. And Sarah Polley never
quite seemed to possess the awe and innate beauty her lover was so
by. However, Jean Smart was perfect as the mother.
Though I believe it could have been magical, and it did begin well, to my disappointment, the journey and end were ultimately rather ridiculous and pretentious.
What would make a smart, young, beautiful woman fall in love with a
photographer three times her age? What would possess her to give up a
spot in Harvard for the opportunity to live with a tortured artist?
Could it be a human desire to create and having the room to do so?
Could it be he offers sage-like wisdom that outweighs the adjunct
creepiness of the situation; Perhaps. It also helps to have low
self-esteem and little direction in life. In the non-committal words of
Harper Sloane (Sarah Polley), "He was the worst man I ever met, or
maybe the best, I'm still not sure. If you're supposed to learn by your
mistakes, then he was the best mistake I ever made
I was his Guinevere
whatever that means." As you can imagine the basic outline of Guinevere
(1999) is one of a relationship between an aging photographer (Stephen
Rea) and a colleen with a self-image problem. As their relationship
progresses, Harper uncovers Connie's bohemian lifestyle extends to his
love life as well has his approach to art. Can she properly balance
their love, her family's expectations of her, his expectations of her
and a menagerie of rival "Guineveres"? Stephen Rea's Connie asks for
five years of his muse's life. Five years rent free for Harper to coax
and develop the artist inside herself. Can she truly accomplish this
task? Okay enough with the rhetorical questions. The fact is those who
will like this movie will like it because it is a mediocre film made
relevant by its subject matter. Self-proclaimed artists and photography
buffs will likely see Guinevere as a diamond in the rough; a romantic
take on their struggles living with their gift. Luckily I have no
artistic talent so I can speak for the majority when I say Guinevere is
diminutive and not worth sitting through. There are moments that bring
to mind other, better films about similar subject matters like Blow-Up
(1966) and La Dolce Vita (1960). Those moments however are interspersed
with conversations about which picture is better, whether Uncle Tom's
Cabin was art or a product and these are not my boobs.
As one gets older, the libido takes a back seat to the heart so I can sympathize with Stephen Rea's character a little. He craves seeing a young artist blossom and loves seeing Harper slowly come out of her shell and eventually become a photographer. That being said he is also craven for a woman's touch and gets it with a clockwork obsession. He doesn't necessarily cheat on Harper, though it is implied. Instead he reinforces his own ideals of love while never really loving Harper to begin with. He loves her potential not who she is.
Jean Smart, who plays Harper's bourgeois mother, does a spot-on analysis of Connie and his warped relationship with Harper. Upon discovery she comes to their apartment and points out that only a young naïve girl would look at a bohemian photographer like him with a modicum of admiration. "No woman of experience would ever stand in front of you with awe in her eyes." She being a woman with experience may have a seemingly unpleasant marriage but at least her children are talented and they live in a home filled with expensive stuff so of course she knows what she's talking about.
Now one can get a sense of legacy from a movie of this kind. Jean Smart's character might see her legacy through her accomplishments in her career and economic success, while Connie might see his accomplishments highlighted in the pursuance of beauty. It's a fair question, whether you yourself would prefer to be remembered for being monetarily successful or being artistically talented. If only such heavy themes were put into a better movie where the whole story wasn't treated so glibly; then we'd have something to talk about.
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