The Goldfinch

Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Surely that automatically equals Academy Award winning film, right? All you gotta do is stay true to the story and not muck it up. Then the reviews started coming out. I’d had plans to see it with a friend and he bailed. I reserved a ticket anyways, but there was a high probability I’d bail (at least until another friend had also reluctantly decided to see it too). Turns out, I didn’t hate it, but man did they miss the mark.

I’ll start by saying it’s an 800 page book distilled into a 2.5 hour movie. There’s a lot going on. A boy gets caught up in a museum bombing that kills his mother. He steals a painting on his way out to safety. He lives with his rich friend’s family for a while until his deadbeat father shows up to claim him. He befriends an old antiques worker and a girl who was also at the museum. He grows up. These things all still affect him.

Here’s the thing, the bones of the story are good. Really good. (Hello, Pulitzer). I was caught up in the story (despite some of the bad filmmaking that I’ll get to shortly), and I heard my buddy gasping out loud at some of the turns it took. Even though it’s a modern book, it felt a lot like the classic literature I used to eat up when I was ten. I really do want to read this and get the full experience of the book.

So why didn’t it work? It was trying way too dang hard. From the opening sequence, it was hitting way too hard on “Hey look this is a dark and heavy theme!” instead of letting the work speak for itself. It also hit on every prestige picture cliche and was just dripping in pretention. Even though the story was good, it shortcut a lot of the back half of it, following our boy as an adult. The childhood storylines were pretty solid, but due to time constaints, the same care couldn’t be given to the grown up side. It felt rushed and thrown together.

Then the acting. My God, this movie was overacted like whoa. I’ve seen all these people be great before, so I hafta blame the direction, which fits with the overly pretentious vibe. And I adore Ansel Elgort, but I think he was miscast. I don’t buy him as a lover of antiques and culture. Especially given the shortcutting on his story, I didn’t see those gaps filled in by his performance. Jeffrey Wright tried really hard, and the younger version of the character (played by Oakes Fegley) was really good, but no one else could really handle it (Sarah Paulson was almost there too, but I blame the material more than her).

The film held my interest enough that I really would like to read the book (squeeze it in at some point between all the Stephen King I’m going thru now). If this had been done as a limited series, maybe it could have done the material justice. But really, if the filmmakers didn’t have Oscars in their eyes, it would have been a better film. And now it’s gonna be remembered for all the wrong reasons, as one of the biggest flops of all time. And it’s a shame because the source material doesn’t deserve that.

The Goldfinch – \m/ \m/ \n

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