Reviewed by Carla Freccero
playing at cinemas throughout the county and beyond, The Hours
is directed by Stephen Dauldry and is based on the novel by Michael
Cunningham. The pay-off in this two-hour long film are the actors.
Nicole Kidman, remarkably unrecognizable, plays Virginia Woolf;
Julianne Moore (Laura Brown) plays an encore of her fifties' persona
from Far from Heaven; Meryl Streep plays the modern-day equivalent
of Clarissa Dalloway (her real surname is Vaughan), a Manhattan
hostess getting ready for a party to honor the ersatz Septimus
character, Richard, a poet with AIDS played by Ed Harris. This
gang, along with other brief appearances by excellent actors (such
as Allison Janney and Toni Collette), making watching this slow-moving
The book was a hit; I haven't read it. The movie is a mood-the
Philip Glass score is jarring, anxiety-producing and interesting.
Very little happens; it's all in the brief words and faces of
the talented cast. As Woolf, around 1941, crafts her Mrs. Dalloway,
Laura in 1951 lives through Mrs. Dalloway's existential crisis-and
the question of whether or not to kill herself-while Clarissa,
in 2001, performs Mrs. Dalloway from the outside. So what Cunningham
does (along with screen writer David Hare), through the fiction,
biography, and words of Virginia Woolf, is create, on the one
hand, a portrait of Mrs. Dalloway's interiority and, on the other,
the omniscient narrator's view of the plot of Mrs. Dalloway updated
to the present. The director succeeds in capturing that effort,
by interweaving the three stories, like Possession did, only much
better and more seamlessly.
I wasn't bored, but at the time it didn't knock my socks off either.
Difficult, troubled, complicated women, helpless or hapless men.
I am glad that the director, like the novelist, chose to focalize
through the women, or it would have been just another sexist story.
As it is, one likes the locked-up tight and tormented Woolf and
is fascinated by the terrifying and yet completely compelling
Laura Brown. You know exactly why she's where she's at. The movie
takes the "shell shock" of Septimus's affliction and
scatters it across the characters in her segment of the story:
her husband survived the war dreaming of her as his goal and rescue;
she then becomes the symptom of his post-traumatic stress, acting
it out and passing it on as legacy to her son.
Streep-today's Clarissa Dalloway-is perhaps the least successful.
Meryl has often played a troubled mother, but she seems somehow
too exaggerated. She's supposed to be neurotic and tough, and
she's a survivor. Here, she veers between excessive fragility
and false cheer, although she ultimately achieves a plausible
balance-just not New York style.
I don't know what the lesbianism's doing in this movie; it's what
made me think a guy was trying and failing to understand Virginia
Woolf. That doesn't mean we don't get a steamy scene; we do, and
All in all, The Hours is a quietly haunting story and an unsettling
movie. It's ambitious, and I appreciate what it tries to do, to
render the complexity of people's interior lives in a relatively
understated, soft-spoken, but also devastating way. Kind of-but
not quite-like Woolf.
Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang,
this is Carla Freccero.