Friday, October 09, 2009

5 things about Bright Star

1. It's unabashedly romantic but never sentimental - The affair between the poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) was carried out in letters, glances, touches, conversations, and a few stolen kisses. It's the kind of story that could easily have descended into period piece corsetted fluffery but is kept honest by the two lead performances and the fact that Campion...

2. fills the movie with details about how these people lived. - Keats didn't make enough money from his writing to allow him to marry Fanny, who (the movie suggests) was capable of making money through her skill in sewing and design. Money (Keats can't afford a winter coat), living arrangements, and what was or wasn't socially appropriate are at the forefront of everyone's mind in Bright Star and ground the movie by setting the love against a social order working to keep Keats and Brawne apart.

3. Bright Star is in part a movie about making things - Movies about writers always run the risk of either literalizing or sentimentalizing the creative process, but Bright Star is honest about the false starts and tedium of the writer's life. Keats and his friend and patron Charles Brown (Paul Schneider) spend quite a bit of time seemingly not doing very much and yet the work gets done. Fanny, who as previously mentioned has a marketable skill, aspires to the poet's life but Keats correctly tells her that the craft of poetry is something that can't be learned. Bright Star wisely doesn't look for the source of Keats's genius, but instead highlights the slow march towards the finished product.

4. Paul Schneider as Charles Brown is weird casting - Schneider is the actor I wrote about here who got started thanks to being a film school classmate of David Gordon Green. I can't remember another American actor having this high profile a role in a British period piece; the closest I can come is Canadian Donald Sutherland in Pride & Prejudice. Nevertheless Schneider pulls off both the Scottish accent and Brown's arrogance, which he uses as a cover for the fact he can't touch Keats as a writer.

5. The two leads are both excellent - Ben Whishaw had better watch out; as Keats he adds another performance as a dying romantic to his role in Brideshead Revisited. Whishaw is believably boyish and ungenius-like but it's Abbie Cornish who gives Bright Star its erotic fire. I'd only known Cornish from Stop Loss, she couldn't be more different here and puts Fanny's rage at the forces keeping her and Keats apart on equal footing with her ardor for him. It's the kind of performance that should be remembered at awards time.

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