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Movie Review:
The Hours
By Matt Singer

02.24.03


I was hesitant to see The Hours. I’ve never read a book by Virginia Woolf, nor the novel of The Hours by Michael Cunningham. The commercials and trailers made the film seem like a pretentious chick flick, far from my favorite genre. The reviews, for a movie of this kind (an Oscar-bait acting showcase), were not great. But it is a nominee for Best Picture, and one wants to be informed when talking about this subject around the office or with fellow movie dorks. So I watched The Hours and went in with an open mind, or the closest thing to it a dumb guy can muster.

Based upon the concept in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway that a single day can explain an entire woman’s life, Stephen Daldry’s The Hours follows three women in three separate time periods on three similar days. In 1923, Woolf (Nicole Kidman) evaluates her mental illness and develops the story that will eventually become Mrs. Dalloway. In 1951, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) prepares a small birthday party for her husband Dan (John C. Reilly) and reads Mrs. Dalloway. In 2001, Clarissa (Meryl Streep) prepares a party for her friend Richard (Ed Harris) who constantly calls her, what else, Mrs. Dalloway. The three days flow together and frequently overlap (characters in different times say the same lines or perform the same actions) and by day’s end, there are numerous angry confrontations and suicides.


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The whole look and feel of the movie lulls you into a false sense of appreciation, but The Hours is still uneven. It seems almost unfair to critique someone so tortured and sad, but for all the crying and weirdness, Moore’s Laura is not a fully conceived character. There is little motivation provided for her actions (keeping Reilly off-screen certainly doesn’t help matters), and Moore’s performance only feels really works in her final scene. I also found it difficult to understand the actions of Woolf’s husband Leonard (Stephen Dillane), and while all three lead women have their own lesbian kiss, only one really makes any sense. And while the supporting cast is littered with fine actors - Claire Danes, Allison Janney, Toni Collette - most just appear to be passing through, contributing little before the next impressive guest is trotted out. They’re great actors, but they have nothing to do, and so their presence only distracts from the film; “Ooh look! It’s Jeff Daniels!” Irrational as it sounds, it feels like the movie is almost gloating that it could attract such great talent to appear in such tiny, thankless roles.

Too much of the movie is impressive surface with nothing underneath. Yes, the cast is great. The Philip Glass score is pretty. The cinematography, production design, fake noses, all look terrific. But after the first half hour, The Hours never truly engaged me. My feelings are best summed up in a quote by Ty Burr from The Boston Globe, “The Hours is about reaffirming one’s own good taste...” Maybe it is too smart, or maybe I’m too stupid. Maybe it is so free of any sort of complex male presence that I was simply given no avenue with which to relate to the film. Maybe I just like The Two Towers too much and am bitter it has no chance of winning Best Picture.

I have no doubt The Hours will be a front-runner on Oscar night, but there have been plenty of Oscar-winning films that have since faded into obscurity. I have a hard time believing The Hours will be remembered fondly decades from now. It works for now, but good taste tends to change.




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