Grappling with writer's block, legendary American poet Elizabeth Bishop travels from New York City to Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s to visit her college friend, Mary. Hoping to find inspiration on her sprawling estate, but she winds up with much more - a tempestuous relationship with her bohemian partner, architect Lota de Macedo Soares, that rocks the staid writer to her foundation. Alcoholism, geographical distance and a military coup come between the lovers, but their intimate connection spans decades and forever impacts the life and work of these two extraordinary artists.
Reaching for the Moon is the kind of movie everyone hopes for but no one makes: a gay romance where "gay romance" is not the premise. Director Bruno Barreto focuses instead on how Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares challenged and changed the world and each other in other ways, and that was absolutely the right choice - these women and their story are fascinating and make for top class entertainment.
And it is entertaining. Considering the characters' issues and the story's ending it could have been drab, but the film is always lively and engaging. It flies by. Bishop takes herself very seriously, but Barreto maintains a sense of humor about it and makes fun of her just enough to keep her melodrama under control. An added bonus is that Miranda Otto gets to show off her underrated and underused comedic chops; one particular drunk scene is priceless. Glória Pires is dynamic and fiery as Lota but Otto is the real star, channeling Greta Garbo and Deborah Kerr in a gracefully commanding performance. She doesn't shy away from Bishop's spikiness, but her screen presence is so compelling that as much as we might be frustrated with her character, we can't take our eyes off her. Thanks to her constantly surprising performance, an eclectic ensemble cast, breathtaking visuals, and assured direction, Reaching for the Moon pulses with energy and is a breath of fresh air in an era of stuffy and bland biopics.
Highlights: Shots of Rio de Janeiro that belong on postcards; a performance from Miranda Otto that would have won an Oscar in 1937; the assertion that some things are more important than whether a person is gay
Verdict: Watch this with your parents instead of Blue Is the Warmest Color
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