Movie Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

Starring: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana
Directed By: Justin Chadwick
Written By: Peter Morgan, from the novel by Philippa Gregory
BBC Films, 2008
PG-13; 115 minutes
2 stars (out of 5)


The Other Boleyn Girl was the first of Philippa Gregory's novels that I ever read—I picked it up at an airport bookstore, as I recall, prior to some trip—and probably still my favorite. So maybe this movie already had a strike against it going in, or at the very least some prejudice to overcome.

But here's the thing: while I can remember liking the book quite a lot, it's been long enough since I read it (and I've read enough other stuff since then) that I only remember a few details from the novel. So it's not as if I were watching this movie and saying to myself, "Well, in the book . . ."

What I was doing was thinking, "None of this rings much of a bell."

That is to say, the movie itself felt vague and without substance. I know enough about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to pick out the historical blurs in the story, but that didn't bother me so much; it's happened often enough that film and television punch things up, move things around, for the sake of a better story. Fine. But this didn't feel like a better story. It felt like a mishmash, a jumble of events that were weirdly disconnected, or maybe only thinly connected, like pearls held apart from one another on the same string. For example, William Carey at some point dies, though one either has to know the history or watch the deleted scenes to figure that out.

Johansson, for her part, did a lovely job as the demur Mary Boleyn. And Portman is believable as someone underhanded and nasty, though her luring of Bana's Henry didn't play quite true. The tension was lacking. In fact, every actor did a fair to fantastic job, but when put all together, the movie fell short of the sum of its parts. Baffling.

Makes me want to go re-read the book.


Book Review: A Little Folly

Jude Morgan
Review, 2010
384 pages
hard cover


I have a fondness for Jude Morgan. I especially enjoyed his novel Indiscretion, and I rather liked this one as well. Morgan takes on the mantel of a would-be Austen with relative ease, peppering his prose with just the right balance of wit and sensibility. His characters are flawed and quirky and interesting enough to pull the reader through the story, even when it starts to be clear exactly how and where that story is likely to end.

At first I could see A Little Folly going in any number of directions, but at a little shy of halfway through it became clear where Morgan was aiming. I don't know how much of this was due to Morgan tipping his hand and how much was simply because I've read enough of these kinds of books to see what's coming. In in case, it only diminished the enjoyment very slightly. The prose bears up even when the reader knows how the story will finish.

An example of Morgan's pitch-perfect humor:
To excite in a man a state of violent loathing was, as any novel-reader knew, to stand in a fair light of winning him at last; but no woman could ever recover from the humiliation of being respected.
Morgan's writing is full of these lovely tidbits, and I often recommend his books to friends who enjoy Austen or Regency stories in general. A Little Folly is, then, another in a list of his good works.


Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery
Directed By: George Nolfi
Written By: George Nolfi, from the story by Philip K. Dick
Universal Pictures, 2011
PG-13; 106 minutes
3 stars (out of 5)


I wanted to see this in the theater when it came out but never got the chance. That's okay. It's not some big spectacle movie that benefits from a big screen.

The story is solid, thanks to Philip K. Dick's "The Adjustment Team." The directing is textbook, which is to say it isn't bad and isn't particularly memorable, either. Some of the dialogue, particularly toward the end, is a bit of a groaner. It takes a special kind of actor (Damon) to deliver such lines evenly and sincerely.

In short, The Adjustment Bureau is the story of politician David Norris, played by Damon, whose destiny is to be great . . . Except he has a run-in with a ballerina (Blunt) that throws him off course. And her, too, by default. Meanwhile, the whole "plan" is maintained by pseudo-angelic businessmen in natty suits and hats (which I suppose are stand-ins for halos), including Slattery. When Norris accidentally gets a glimpse inside the mechanism that maps his existence, he becomes determined to change his fate. It seems he can be a great politician or get the girl but not both.

Of course, the movie is designed to be a discussion piece. Free will? Preordained destiny? But The Adjustment Bureau is almost too sweet-tempered to foster any dialogue. There's nothing in it to get fired up about. Which is a shame, because with a little more punch, it would have been a great movie instead of just a good one.

Guess it wasn't meant to be.