Film Review Archive


The Hours
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Now 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 drama worthwhile.

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 it's priceless.

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.