Mark Reviews Movies

THE HOURS

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Stephen Daldry

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Ed Harris, Stephen Dillane, John C. Reilly, Miranda Richardson, Claire Danes, Alison Janney, Toni Colleette, Jeff Daniels

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic element, some disturbing images and brief language)

Running Time: 1:54

Release Date: 12/27/02 (limited); 1/17/03 (wide)


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Who would have thought that a story that handles such concepts as womenís issues, faded love, suicide, and literary consciousness and variation and weaves and connects them through the individual tales of three different women from three different eras would be so uninvolving? Iím not being sarcastic either. The opening minutes of The Hours are intensely promising, documenting the sad demise of one of its central characters and then intercutting the introductions of the three central heroines with relative fluidity. Then each of the womenís stories begins to take focus, and the connection between them starts to fall apart. Thematically, I suppose they always remain related, although as the movie progresses, the themes start to falter due to underdevelopment and overemphasis. Dramatically, though, the stories donít mesh. In some ways, The Hours is no better than most of the so-called "chick flicks" that have been released in recent years, thanks to unconvincing character and situation development. It has a self-importance to it, though, because of its literary roots and prestigious cast. In some ways, those elements save it from becoming a total failure and raise it to something entirely mediocre.

Letís separate the three stories chronologically for easy reference. First is a look at author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman). The first scene takes place in 1941, when Woolf walked into a river with her pockets full of rocks. The rest of her story takes place in 1923.  She has moved from London to the suburbs under the advice of her husband Leonard (Stephen Dillane) and her doctors. Leonard still worries about her and with good reason. The novel sheís writing, she decides, will be about a woman who goes through an ordinary existence and kills herself in the end over something seemingly trite. The book sheís writing is Mrs. Dalloway, which leads to the second segment in 1951. Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is reading the book and, ironically, on the day of her husband Danís (John C. Reilly) birthday. While heís away at work, she and her son Richie (Jack Rovello) bake a cake for the occasion. Flash to 2001, where Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) wakes to buy flowers (like Mrs. Dalloway decides to do at the beginning of the book) for a party sheíll be holding later for her friend Richard (Ed Harris), a writer dying of AIDS.

I could see a film about the first two sections intertwined working, but the third story is more or less useless until the final act in which itís tied to the second one.  None of the segments has time to flesh out its characters or ideas wholly, and weíre left with an inherent problem with each of them. The first is potentially fascinating, but its key relationship is so underdeveloped that the scene in which they confront their problems seems more about establishing the opening scene than about the two people having the conversation. The second story is pitch-perfect. It relies more on quiet moments and defining whatís happening visually and emotionally instead of through dialogue. Itís almost quite literate in that sense. The third section holds the entire movie down. Itís contextually ill-defined, hollow, and, when the finale connects the last two, drags the most successful segment down with it. The main problem with it is that the central character has no problems, except self-satisfied regret, which certainly isnít worth caring about.

Meryl Streep plays Clarissa, which certainly magnifies the characterís dramatic flaws. Again, Streep Acts instead of defining her character. Essentially, we just donít care about this woman and how she fits into the big picture. Even the better performances in it suffer. Ed Harris makes a stunning transformation in his role, but in the first scene between Harris and Streep, they both seem to be trying to match the otherís level and are both too big (the rest of Harrisí performance is genuinely realized). The whole segment has this tendency to go far too over-the-top without justifying the decision. On the other hand, the stories in the two eras past are well acted and much better defined. Nicole Kidman garners a prosthetic nose which changes her entire facial appearance, and the concept behind it has seeped into the rest of her performance. Kidman disappears into the role, assuming an attitude, vocal quality, and stern determination unlike anything sheís ever done before. Julianne Mooreís performance depends entirely on what the character doesnít say. The role is like a lesser developed form of her part in Far from Heaven, but hers is probably the most demanding and most effective performance in the movie.

In the end, The Hours is too vaguely expounded to matter. Near the end of the movie, it picks up momentum only to lose it at the very end. Stephen Daldryís direction is nonspecific and never truly finds a proper way to connect these three women and their stories in any way that truly matters. Some may say that a familiarity with Mrs. Dalloway and Michael Cunninghamís novel, but to that I respond, a film should stand on its own regardless of exposure to its source material. The movie is generally well performed and shows many outstanding technical merits (direction and editing notwithstanding), but ultimately, itís only memorable as a missed opportunity.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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