Review Date:
Director: Neil Labute
Writer: David Henry Hwang, Laura Jones, Neil LaBute
Producers: Barry Levinson, Paula Weinstein
Aaron Eckhart as Roland Michell, Gwyneth Paltrow as Maud Bailey, Jeremy Northam as Randolph Henry Ash
A good-looking American in England hooks up with Gwyneth Paltrow and her British accent to investigate the secret passions of a couple of old school poets from back in the day. As they uncover some of the hush-hush ditties between the two, the plot thickens and a little something called love…ensues.
A film about a couple of high-brow literary researchers conducting an extensive background investigation into the lives of two poets from the 19th century? “Wake me when it’s done” is what I was thinking when I walked into this puppy, but color my uncouth ass surprised when it actually turned out to be one of the better love stories that I’ve seen in quite some time. Mind you, perhaps I was just in a sappy mood, or perhaps I was still recovering from my previous night’s bender, but whatever the case, this film managed to win me over with its engaging premise, its delightful love stories, its solid acting across the board and its original way of unfolding a plotline. Basically, we follow the lives of these two modern day academics (aka geeks) as they move from library to mansion to museum, chasing the details of these two poets’ missives, and as each moment in time is uncovered, we as an audience, are taken into the actual day of the poets, and shown the events as they occur. Sound like fun? What makes it doubly interesting (if this sounds interesting to you in the first place, of course) is that the two parallel stories really managed to engage me throughout. I was especially taken by the poets’ journey, and coming from a goof who generally doesn’t dig on “period pieces”, that should tell you something right there. Like most “love” tales from those days go, these two poor saps had a difficult time “hooking up” because of the societal pressures around them, but it was fun to see how they worked things out via letters, glances and simple touches.

Both actors from that period, Jeremy Northam (does this man do any modern-day stuff?) and Jennifer Ehle (aka Meryl Streep with a chubby face), also did a wondrous job of portraying the angst, frustration and deep-rooted passion between these two characters, making it all that much more believable. I also enjoyed the modern day story with Paltrow and Eckhart (great hair, btw!), which certainly wasn’t as deep or gripping as the former tale, but did manage to attain that sweet level, with both characters needing to work through their own shit, to get to a place where they could accept and love one another. I also dug the chemistry between all of the lovers in the movie (for anyone who knows the “lovers” sketch from “Saturday Night Live”, please make sure to pronounce that as “lavers”!), the beautiful landscape and European sights, the way each step of the “mystery” was unraveled and ultimately, the potency of the film’s love chronicles. Yes, the film did feel a little contrived near the end and a tad long, but overall I was captivated by all that transpired on the screen, and considering that I’m not exactly the balls-out Neil Labute fan or ready to accept an unconditional love story myself (since my recent break-up, romance/love and I haven’t exactly mixed very well), I guess this pony accomplished its trick. Also, the film’s not as stuffy as you might think. Eckhart’s character plays the “boorish” American studying in England and he has his share of witty quips here and there. Definitely one of the better rounded romance stories of the past year. Hip-hip Labute!

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian