Liv Ullmann. What a tremendous actress. She was the muse of the great auteur Ingmar Bergman, and she earned that status by repeatedly delivering complex and shattering performances in films like Face to Face, Scenes from a Marriage, Autumn Sonata and Persona. She is, without question, one of the greatest actresses who ever walked the earth.
Did you know she’s also a director?
Yeah, I knew this, and yet I still haven’t seen any of her work (she’s only directed 3 feature films, a segment in another film, a documentary and a television movie), until now. Yes, my introduction to the world of Liv Ullmann ‘the director’ was with this little-seen (or is it just widely ignored) adaptation of ‘Miss Julie’.
I prefer Liv Ullmann ‘the actress’.
When ‘Miss Julie’ arrived in the mail, my wife and I were both pretty excited. We are both big fans of Colin Farrell. My wife has been impressed with Jessica Chastain, or at least what she’s heard of her talent (my wife has actually only seen Chastain in ‘The Help’ and ‘The Tree of Life’, and she fell asleep five minutes into Malick’s film so she probably doesn’t even remember that Chastain was in it). I adore Samantha Morton (she really should be in everything) and of course, as I mentioned, I’m a giant fan of Ullmann. Throw them all in a period piece, add sexual tension and the promise of romantic angst and you have our attention.
You had our attention, until you lost it.
I have many, many issues with this film that all really seem to blur into one gigantic problem. This is my first encounter with the story as well, so maybe I’ll take issue with every version of the story as well (I have the 1951 Sjoberg version on my DVR at the moment), but I’m holding out hope that Ullmann just messed up royally, because I see so much potential squandered.
My problem, as my review title suggests, is that these characters are so incredibly unstable and unbearably tonally challenged that the whole film feels like absolute ridiculousness. The unabashed scenery chewing is so aggressive and in-your-face that it strips away any real character development and presents to an audience a barrage of ‘emotions’ with no actual substance. There is no connection or chemistry between any of these actors and so all their actions feel forced and unauthentic. Chastain is abysmal here, yelling and heaving and clutching things and then trying her hardest to be all ‘stern and commanding’ and coming off like a child playing house. She isn’t convincing at all, and in many instances she’s just downright embarrassing. Farrell fares better, but the way his character is handled is baffling. He appears innocently manipulated and then completely taken over by unexplained or really perplexed passions and then conniving and heartless, and then back and forth and back and forth again. It was like his character completely changed with each passing scene. And then you have poor Samantha Morton, who lingers in each scene like an unwanted step-child, sulking in the background with her downtrodden expression that gives the appearance of a woman with severe mental problems. The fact that Farrell is probably the best he’s ever looked in the film, and Morton is at her absolute frumpiness, doesn’t help this situation, since their ‘love’ never appears genuine. It’s not like Chastain looks any better (like, hot mess, for real), but the attractions are just unbelievable all around.
This all makes for a film, story, whatever, that I couldn’t honestly care less about. I wanted to, but I believed nothing and by the time it was through I was really hoping that a massive fire was going to break out and everyone was going to die.
Oh, and I know I fell asleep during part of this, because my wife told me something about gangsters, and I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I have no desire to watch this again and find out.
When this ended, my wife said to me that this was the worst movie she’s ever seen. I’m almost obliged to agree with her.