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It's August. Like they have most summers, elderly widowed sisters Libby Strong and Sarah Webber, who live in Philadelphia, are staying together in the family's summer cottage on an island off the coast of Maine. The cottage, which now belongs to Sarah, has been in their family most of their lives, was the family's summer getaway from Philadelphia when they were younger. There are a few people who have been friends or acquaintances on the island, including the outspoken Tisha Dought, and Joshua Brackett. Someone new at least to Sarah's social circle is Mr. Maranov, a former Russian aristocrat. His stay on the island is threatened when his landlady, Hilda Partridge, passes away. Sarah and Libby have come to the realization they are in the respective twilight of their lives, Sarah, who still keeps busy and wants to savor life's pleasures, acts as now sightless, cantankerous and bitter Libby's caregiver. Sarah knows she can no longer take care of Libby. As such, Sarah has to make ...Written by
I will attempt to be as impartial as possible in my review, but right from the outset, I do believe that the flaw in this magnificently presented tribute' is not in the actresses (as most commentary' seem to be intent particularly on Davis), but in the film itself.
Libby (Davis) provides with gusto a controlled, deep and thoughtful portrayal of ageing that has soured with time. Hating being dependent on anyone, she has to rely heavily on her sister Sarah (Gish) because of her physical limitations and her near blindness. She provides the backbone to this gentle fable and without her strength we would have little to learn from. Her solo scene in her bedroom with her late husbands clip of hair, is touching and heart-warming. Here she is photographed superbly and you come away from this shot reassured that there is timeless and unconditional love still around us in the world somewhere. If there is one fault in her overall performance, it is her first scene, where appearing to almost glow in the dark like a ghostly image, wanting to convey to us her blindness, she relies heavily upon her trademark hand and eye movement, for which she is renowned for instead of allowing us to observe more gently the introduction of Libby Strong.
Gish stands out as truly magnificent. Her denial of an `Oscar' nomination for Best Actress is a sad fact, for if ever she earned it in the last twenty or so years, this was the one. Her expressions and reactions to her fellow characters are without blemish. We feel for `Sarah' and are delighted when she gets her picture window. Not solely for the picture window' but more for the fact that `Libby' shows her first sign in possibly many years of not giving in to death. Gish also carries her solo scene effortlessly when celebrating alone, her beloved husband Philip's memory on their 46th Wedding Anniversary. It's beautiful and elegant.
Sothern, Carey Jr. and Price add substantial weight to their respective supporting performances and they also give us a little uplift when the spirits' almost seemed to be weighing down with age. Sothern, though, appears too young for the storyline though in fact she wasn't. Price is grand. His sponge' is likeable and meticulously interpreted; though I was always glad when his part had finished, I wanted back to the ladies. Carey Jr. could have hung around a bit longer. He was a delight in his too few scenes. He gave it a charge. Davis and Carey Jr. where a good match I must say!!
The fault as far as I'm concerned lay in the storyline and the static photography with the conversation pieces. We didn't need the real estate scene and we could have had more in depth conversation between Sarah and Libby alone. The hand held photograph viewer scene was the perfect opportunity for a journey into the realm of their respected lives the sad moment and the happier moment. Again it escaped us on the shoreline when seated on an upturned dinghy. A breath of fresh air, from the almost claustrophobic feel of being confined to and around Sarah's home, beautiful though it was this was cinema after all.
Then there is the cinematography. Heavily reliant upon editing, the camera didn't seem to have any interest in following the cast nor the story. It broke off as if bored to show us Sothern' picking a berry from a bowl, then upon approval, taking it to share with the others. The entrance back inside the house after their walk to the edge (Gish and Sothern), broke off from Davis hanging her coat to seating herself, when I feel that we could have had more interest for the viewer if we could have done that in a single take. Some POV shots from the arm of the Libby's armchair or her pondering over the ocean when recalling the November chill in her bones (remembering her late husbands passing) to see the scene as she could only feel it and not seen it, could all have been handled better much better. These are only two of the faults as I have seen them.
Anderson deserves much credit for allowing this opportunity see the light of day in such a commercial' day and age. And also some of his handling is gentle and sensitive. However it is obvious that he holds a long held passion for `Lillian Gish' in her hey day and this somewhat overshadows the whole project a deserved as it may be. When you consider the wealth of talent dabbling in their shallow pool of opportunity, you can't help but wish that they had made more of their Whale of an opportunity and given us something deeper for the Whales of August to dive away into.
Still . it's a golden tribute to America's greatest. Thank you Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Sothern, Carey Jr. and Price. It's well worth the 88 minutes of watching time, just to see you on the screen where you always belonged.
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