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Girl With A Pearl Earring & Butterfly Effect
by Dennis Morton

Scarlett Johansson, barely of legal age, is a precociously wise actor. And she’s had the good fortune of working for directors with a gift for understatement, a quality too rare on the big screen. But Peter Webber, (like Sofia Coppola, who directed Johansson in "Lost In Translation") understands that less is often more. It certainly is in "Girl With A Pearl Earring".

Colin Firth plays the great Dutch painter, Jan Vermeer. And Johansson is Griet, one of the family maids in Vermeer’s household. I don’t know how historically accurate the movie is, but in the film, Griet becomes the model for Vermeer’s famous painting. Director Webber’s sense of restraint almost gets away from him when he turns his cinematic brush to a Vermeer family portrait. Vermeer’s wife and older daughter are painted in garish shades of vengeful jealousy. The script provides us with the reasons why, but the daughter, especially, is almost overdrawn.

But to quibble over that would be to lose sight of Webber’s achievement, a feat not fully realized until the final, truly awe inspiring scene. Without exaggeration, I can tell you that this scene brought tears to my eyes, gave me goose bumps and a set of not unpleasant shudders.

As good as Johansson and Firth are, and without in any way intending to diminish the competence of Director Peter Webber, for me the real stars of "Girl With A Pearl Earring" are Cinematographer Eduardo Serra and the Production Designer, Ben van Os. Almost every frame of this film could be a painting. The script, score, acting, and direction are fine, but if the sound were lost, "Girl With A Pearl Earring" would be worth watching, again and again, for the sheer visual beauty of it. "…Earring" opens this weekend at The Del Mar Theatre, in downtown Santa Cruz.

The other movie I bring to your attention is already fluttering on area screens. Chaos Theory notwithstanding, "Butterfly Effect" is unlikely to produce a tsunami of adulation among most movie-goers. In fact, the "Butterfly Effect" has been roundly pummeled by most of the critics.

I would like to suggest, however, that there is a way to actually enjoy this film. Granted, my reading of it is most likely not the one intended by its team of writer/ directors, Eric Bress and J Mackye Gruber.

I see "Butterfly Effect" as a ghoulish version of "Groundhog Day" for adolescents. A scene early in the movie convinced me that the directors had their tongues buried dangerously deep in cheek. It had to do with a drawing produced by a seven year old named Evan. It was a work depicting domestic slaughter of the patricide and matricide ilk. But the extremely fiendish nature of the drawing was exceeded in its effect by the skill of the rendering. Little Evan was producing gallery quality work. He may have needed a shrink, but in today’s world, that would have come on the way home from Southeby’s. Mom might well fear for her life. She might be well advised to put the cutlery under lock and key, but if she expired, it would be with a full bank account.

However, nothing what so ever is made of Evan’s precocious artistry, by any of the adults who examine it. So, I’m thinking – nice touch. When will the next joke roll drolly by? Minutes pass, a few dozen of them, punctuated here and there by scenes considerably less artful than Evan’s etchings, and I’m beginning to think these director guys didn’t get their own joke. And then the fun begins. It’s dark, and tongues are buried even deeper than before. Or maybe they’re not. Maybe the events are concocted in full earnestness. In either case, intended or not, "Butterfly Effect" turns out to be a very dark comedy. There is a suggestion lurking just below the surface of the narrative that language and writing have the power to change the world, though not necessarily for the better. And that that power, ultimately, is trumped by the power of the image. To test my theory you’ll have to see this probably inadvertent gem for yourself.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.