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Non-Review Review: The Children Act

Perhaps the most striking thing about The Children Act is how it manages to combine so many stock prestige drama beats into such a chaotic cacophony.

The Children Act is a mess from beginning to end, all the more jarring for how familiar and how recognisable the constituent elements might be. The Children Act often feels like a fairly standard IKEA table where all of the pieces have been assembled to create something monstrous. Often during the runtime, the audience might spot a familiar beat or plot point, but often one deployed with little consideration for how these elements normally work or how they might better service this particular story.

Come what May.

The Children Act is a film that very clearly aspires towards a certain style of prestige cinema. It is directed by Richard Eyre, responsible for awards fare like Iris or Notes on a Scandal and even the recent highly successful BBC adaptation of King Lear. It is written by Ian McEwan, adapting his own novel, the writer perhaps still best know to movie-going audiences as the novelist who provided the source material for Atonement. It stars Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci, two actors who are always highly engaging, and who should bounce off one another.

Unfortunately, almost nothing within the film actually works, with strange decisions contorting the narrative into strange shapes. The Children Act is a curiousity that is more intriguing than it is engaging, more compelling for how completely it refuses to work than for anything that it is actually trying to say.

Just this.

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Non-Review Review: On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach is a messy and awkward adaptation of Ian McEwan’s story, adapted by the writer from his own work.

McEwan’s source material might be better described as a “novella” than as a “novel”, with the writer describing it as such and the book generating some small controversy when shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Indeed, the film strains when it tries to extend the novella’s core idea out into a feature-length film, often struggling to find focus and to hold its attention. The result is a very uneven piece of work.

Love on the rocks.

However, On Chesil Beach provides an intriguing mess of interesting ideas and solid performances. Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle cannot hold the film together, but provide a set of interesting characters that provide the closest thing that the film has to a throughline. The film works best when it is willing to focus on these two characters together, when it moves away from its free-association aesthetic towards something more concrete.

On Chesil Beach never quite coheres into a fully-formed film, often feeling more like a televison movie or a stage play than a theatrical release. Still, there is something interesting playing beneath the surface, often lost in heavy-handed writing or awkward segues.

It ain’t no picnic.

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Non-Review Review: The Comfort of Strangers

Let me tell you something: My father was a very big man. And all his life he wore a black mustache. When it was no longer black, he used a small brush, such as ladies use for their eyes. Mascara.

– Robert

The Comfort of Strangers is… a strange film. I can appreciate what it’s doing (or rather what it is trying to do), but it never quite comes together. Perhaps it’s because the movie seems structured as too much of a thought exercise rather than a finished dramatic production. There’s food for thought here, but there’s really not too much else.

Never wander off with strangers... ESPECIALLY if they're Christopher Walken...

Note: I will be discussing the film’s ending, which is kinda important. But don’t worry, I’ll flag it beforehand. Plus, this film is nearly twenty years old, so I figure it’s fair game.

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