Thursday, September 24, 2009

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Bright Star

I liked Bright Star a lot. It wasn't just the immense high one gets from going to an exclusive screening arranged through a teacher's connection with the film's distributor. No, this was a genuine rush of awe, and though I was not brought to tears, I was deeply moved.

Jane Campion's film chronicles the romance between poet John Keats and his neighbor, Fanny Brawne. As this is Campion, the story is told through Fanny's point-of-view -- a wise decision, for who among us can possibly identify with a poet as revered as Keats? The screenplay is inspired by Andrew Motion's definitive biography Keats, as well as letters written between Fanny and Keats. Indeed, much of the dialogue is lifted directly from these letters, and it is a testament to the talents of Campion and her cast that such poetic and flowery language can flow so naturally and realistically.

We've all gone through that Great First Love. When you're young, it feels like life or death, and you become melodramatic in your protestations that your life will be over without your true love by your side. Oh, and there is plenty of that to go around in Bright Star, as John and Fanny both risk their health (physical and mental) to pursue their affections. And while there are times when one can look at these two and think, "Dear God, people, grow up," more often than not we are touched by their steadfastness.

And when they finally share their first kiss...the thrill! Never has a film so clothed been so erotic. The mere interlacing of fingers sends the pulse racing. Yes, I am serious. Campion does an expert job of bringing you into the time and place, so that we 21st-century audience members are just as scandalized and aroused by these simple gestures as the characters.

I don't mean to give Campion all the credit. Certainly, the actors are doing their part to make people we identify with. Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw are the leads. For Your Consideration: These two. Cornish has to balance this intelligent, independent woman with the devoted, doting lover, and my God! She does it! Fanny is brilliant and strong, and though she is quick to take offense and forward in her opinions, yet she is likable. Whishaw, I think, turns in one of the best performances I've seen so far. Keats's poetry flows naturally from him. The chemistry he shares with Cornish is genuine, I swear. You forget for two hours that she's with Ryan Phillippe and he's...I don't know, but it seems like someone should have snatched him up by now, right?

The always reliable Paul Schneider, now with Scottish accent, has quite a turn as John's best friend, fellow poet Charles Armitage Brown. Kerry Fox plays Fanny's mother, and though she does not say or do much, she does not need to; it is a brilliant performance.

A quiet, beautiful film, it will be interesting to see how Bright Star fares in expansion. It won't do HUGE business, I think, but fans of costume dramas should attend in droves. That, by the way, is more of a suggestion than a prediction. Fans: SEE THIS MOVIE. No matter what the public or critics make of it, however, I shall love Bright Star, and I look forward to adding it to my DVD/Blu-Ray collection. Someday.

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