Friday, April 11, 2008

Sense and Sensibility

Friday April 11, 2008

Sense and Sensibility (1995) ****1/2

Directed by Ang Lee

Without a doubt, Sense and Sensibility has one of the best casts in film history. Just listen to this group of names: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, Tom Wilkinson, Hugh Laurie and Alan Rickman. Ang Lee’s direction is superb. This, along with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain, places Lee among the very greatest living directors. Sense and Sensibility transports us completely into nineteenth century England with gorgeous landscapes, excellent art design and costumes to die for.

For me, the best part about Sense and Sensibility was being introduced to Jane Austin’s perfectly crafted love story! Similar to many Austin works, here we have sisters (played by Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet) who, among other things, deal with the men in their lives. Some men they love from afar and some men love them from afar. Both sisters are lacking in ways that fully contrast the other sister. Elinor (Thompson) tries to be the stoic and not let her feelings show or get out of her control. Marianne (Winslet) on the other hand never holds anything back and often puts herself way out there only to be devastated when she is betrayed. The story centers around these two sisters, their family and many acquaintances. The supporting characters are plentiful and extremely colorful. My two favorite characters were the Palmers played hilariously by Imelda Staunton and Dr. House himself, Hugh Laurie.

Despite the list of top notch British actors, I felt the weakness of the film lies in many of the performances themselves. Austin’s novel and Thompson’s screenplay require the characters to sometimes break into romantic period dialogue. With the exception of Rickman, I don’t feel like any other performer pulled it off when they needed to. Whenever these melodramatically sweeping statements were uttered, I was taken out of the film because the delivery was not authentic at all.

Also, I didn’t feel like Thompson nor Winslet reached their potentials in these performances. Winslet comes across as mean, prickly and spoiled. I was not rooting for her at all. Thompson underplays her character most of the time to the point where she tends to be the blandest element in many scenes.

Finally, I like the guy, but Hugh Grant is absolutely awful and he and Thompson have no chemistry at all together. Grant’s idea of playing an upper class, insecure stiff is to stand like he’s upper class, insecure and stiff. I felt like he would get a neck cramp if he continued to stand that way. Further, the way he walked looked like he bought underwear a few sizes too small.

So, yes, Sense and Sensibility could have been acted better. Still, the direction is perfect! The screenplay is perfect! The mood is perfect! Many in the supporting cast (especially the great Alan Rickman) are perfect! That’s enough perfects to make the film a winner!