Thursday, June 5, 2014

A woman scorned...

I have to say, I found it rather strange to be going to see this film with my wife and NOT my daughters, but my kids have found the very image of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent to be fear inducing and the idea of spending the next few nights convincing her that the dark is not their enemy was not something I wanted to entertain, so my wife and I got sitters and went out on a Disney date night.

I feel like I could honestly write two very different reviews for this film based on my personal reaction to the material and my reaction to the film from the vantage point of a parent, but I’ll do my best to combine them in a way that makes sense.  I guess the easiest way to do that is to get my parental quibbles out of the way first.  ‘Maleficent’, for me, feels very much like an adult film.  The themes presented here are very dark, very mature, and the creepy aspects involved are turned WAY up.  The first (and I mean the VERY first) thing I said to my wife upon leaving the theater was “I can’t understand how anyone could bring their kids to see this” and I stand by that.  No, I’m not judging you if you do bring your kids to see it (even Jolie stated that she made this film for her kids) but for me, I just couldn’t do it.  My children are too sensitive, too young for this.

I found it telling that out theater last night was filled with couples, young and old…but NO children.

Yes, ‘Maleficent’ pushes the boundaries of a PG rating rather strongly.  In my eyes, it should have been PG-13, and while this may sound like nitpicking (since ratings are really subjective and grounds for serious debate), as a parent I do feel sensitive about these things.  This isn’t to say that ‘Maleficent’ doesn’t carry aspects that are full of beauty and even touching, and the central theme is one that I think is healthy for children to learn, but there is a chill that runs thought most of the film that I don’t think is entirely kid-friendly.

Call me a prude and a restrictive parent all you want, but have kids first!

All that being said, I personally really enjoyed ‘Maleficent’.  From a more mature vantage point (where you can put the pieces together and not be swayed by the demeanor) this film truly tells a stunning and warming story.  The comparisons to Disney’s last major success, ‘Frozen’, are appropriate in many ways, but ‘Maleficent’ is in no way a copycat.

Retelling the beloved fairytale, ‘Maleficent’ dares to tell us what really happened to Sleeping Beauty.  I don’t know if having never seen Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was an asset for me here, or maybe a detractor, but overall I found myself under ‘Maleficent’s spell. 

We start with a tale of two worlds in conflict.  One kingdom, overrun by a ruthless king, is in dire straits and envious of the other kingdom, one run by no mere being but peaceful and in unity.  In that peaceful world lives a young orphan fairy named Maleficent.  She meets a young peasant boy from the neighboring kingdom and over the years forms a bond and friendship and even a romance with the boy, until his own ambition catches up with him and he betrays her for the throne.  Stealing her wings and declaring her dead, this young boy, now a man, is handed the throne upon the king’s passing.  Maleficent, tasting the depths of betrayal, vows revenge and utilizes her powers to curse the new king’s newborn daughter, Aurora, condemning her to eternal sleep upon her sixteenth birthday.

There is a catch though.  You see, Maleficent is not without a heart, and she winds up surveying the caretaking of the young princess, albeit from a distance, her whole childhood and forms a love for her, so strong that she wishes to reverse her curse.

But she can’t.

At the heart of ‘Maleficent’ lies the story of a woman’s strength to rise above in a world dominated by men afraid of her strength and bent on dominating her.  I know that sounds awfully heavy and even preachy for a Disney movie, but the way it is handled is rather effective.  Maleficent is a gentle and noble fairy that is loathed by men who are afraid of her power and become consumed with containing it.  When the man she trusts grasps that he has the ability to use her for his own personal gain, he jumps at the chance and hardens his own heart to the folly of his ways.  It’s a tragic, yet poignant tale, and I was wholly impressed with how well Disney handled this.  What is even more fascinating was the way that her scorn, her pain, her suffering is melted by the goodness of her own heart.  Even her final confrontation with her persecutor shows that her quest for vengeance only goes so far.

All of these aspects are brought magically to life by Angelina Jolie’s commanding portrayal of Maleficent.  It feels strange to say this, but this may actually be Jolie’s finest performance to date.  When first seeing Jolie in the film, I was instantly drawn to how striking she was visually, but as the film progresses I was blown away by the depth of character she created.  Her simple line readings are spot on.  The way she caresses her words, coaxing out the devilish charm, was uncanny.  Her reactions, her flippant dismissal of conversations; all of them feel so rooted in this woman.  But it is obviously her big scenes that show the full range within this character, and she handles them marvelously.  From the moment she notices she has no wings (such naivety, such gutted emotions) to her tearful apology while standing over Aurora’s bed (I nearly cried), Jolie fleshes out this woman’s core brilliantly.

The rest of the cast, sadly, is a mixed bag.  Fanning, who is one of the best actresses of her generation, has nothing to do but laugh and sleep.  Copley is pretty awful here and his voice is horribly distracting.  I was most disappointed though, in the three fairies, Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistletwit.  They just felt so out of place within the structure of the film and kind of felt like an afterthought; like misused comic relief.  Sadly, they weren’t funny and I cringed almost every time they were on the screen.

The film is beautiful to look at, and the score by James Newton Howard was exquisite.                 

At the end of the day, I was very impressed with this, mostly for Jolie’s magnificent turn and the way that the central themes were handled.  I wish that the rest of the cast had a wider range and that the atmosphere wasn’t so dark, more for the little ones, but as a film for myself, I was pleasantly surprised.

I give the film a B.  Oscar may bite here, but I'm not certain.  The visual effects could happen, and the Production Design (and Costumes) stand a chance as well, but sadly the most deserving nomination won't happen, and that is for Angelina Jolie.  She was astonishing here and would richly deserve a nomination, but I have a feeling her best bet is for the star-fucking Globes to place this film (wrongfully) in Comedy/Musical so that they can give Jolie a nod, 'Tourist' style.


  1. I actually saw this movie with 7 year old girl (cannot believe my boyfriend trusts me to babysit) and she did love it and didn't seem scared.

    I think for me a movie like this always fails - the fairies, I agree were so out of place but the kids in the audience seemed to love them. And for me the script was just lazy - no mention of Maleficent's hurt feelings in the final confrontation, the whole curse plot resolved easily, just a bunch of lazy stuff to make the movie because no matter what people will see it. So it's not exactly for kids and not exactly for adults later.

    But Angie was great. And I did love her chemistry with Fanning - she certainly did more than Williams, Stewart and Wasikowska in other Disney cash grabs.

    1. All kids are different too, so it could be just me and my over-sensitivity (which I've been accused of having).

      I didn't think it was that lazy. I actually loved the way that Maleficent and her whole growth as a woman was handled. The fairies were out of place mainly because they bucked the overly dark tone and just didn't mesh. The balance of tone was not there to justify their existence.

      But yes, Jolie was masterful. I mean, I was blown away by this performance, and that was not something I was expecting. So much soul, so much identity. She really went the extra mile with this one.

  2. I'm glad you pointed out Copley, I didn't get to him in my review, but you're right. His voice was super distracting. He's really good at playing unlikable characters, but accents definitely are not his strong point.

    I didn't realize this was a PG rating. I thought it felt like PG13 too. Funny enough, there were no kids in my theater when I saw this either.

    1. Yeah, Copley was a mess.

      I'm really shocked at the PG rating. I know they wanted to draw in children, and the new adds prove that, but there are too many dark moments here (and that final battle is quite intense) that I can't understand why this wasn't considered the same as that Snow White and the Huntsman movie, since they are very similar in tone.

      This one is better, but still.

  3. Yeah, I was surprised this was PG, as it was VERY dark at times. Jolie was brilliant, but I wish I liked the film more. I'm in the C+/C territory, though I'm close to a B-.

    1. Like, am I crazy for thinking this was Jolie's best performance to date (at least in a theatrical film)? Like, I really want to say she's a lock for a Fisti nom at this point, but the year is still young. Still, I'm dying to nominate her for this!

  4. I too was actually kind of shocked with the rating being scaled down to a PG rating, especially with the fight scene at the end (with the obvious stabbing...pretty brutal stuff for PG). I wouldn't call this Angie's best performance, but it was definitely a good one...I mention in my review that her shriek (after losing her wings) was reminiscent of her character in Girl Interrupted and gave me chills. Good review and perspective!

    1. YES! That shriek gave me chills too! So human, so could feel the betrayal, which was a feeling she wasn't used to. You could feel her pain.

  5. Hi Andrew! So this is more for adults than kids eh? That's odd as I thought there'd be more of a balance, I mean after all it's a DISNEY movie! Angelina Jolie as Maleficent can look pretty menacing for young audience, I think even she said the reason she cast her own daughter is all the other kids were too scared!

    I might give this a rent, too late to catch up w/ it as I was on vacation, but now there are other movies I'd rather see on the big screen.

    – ruth

    1. I too expected more of a balance, and there are segments in the center of the film that flow with a really nice air of softness, especially as Maleficent is bonding with the child, but there is a lot of darkness here.

      That being said, if you can catch it on the big screen, I recommend it, for it is beautiful to look at.

  6. I really enjoyed the film. It was a great take on a classic tale. Jolie was well cast. I think it's important to put a seasoned actress in these roles, like Jolie or Theron. These roles can come off as one-dimensional, so it takes a great actress to pull out some of the personality, which Jolie did quite well.

    It was a fun Disney flick. I liked it a lot better than 'Snow White and the Huntsman.' Theron was fantastic, but Stewart was abysmal. So in that regard, Jolie and Fanning definitely were a great match.

    I did like the idea that Aurora's true love was the love between a parent and a child-- her and her Godmother. "Most" parents love their children so completely that they would lay down their lives for them without a second thought. For some strange reason that love is not as highly regarded as romantic love.

    1. I loved that twist (the true love twist) because it felt so grounded, and Jolie just excels so much in that scene. It's a beautiful moment in the film, and while it is unfortunate that it comes so close to last year's Frozen and the true love twist in that film, it still stands on its own so I forgive it.