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"Girl with a Pearl Earring"

Directed by Peter Webber.
Written by Olivia Hetreed.  Based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier. 
Starring Scarlet Johansson, Colin Firth and Tom Wilkinson.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  2/12/04 


Continuing the saga that has become Oscar Catchup Month, I had to drag myself to a theater to see this film; this past Sunday, I was driving to the theater and I still couldn’t make myself watch this thing, so I went home and played video games instead.

But, I have to admit, “Girl with a Pearl Earring” kept me vividly entertained for its entire running time.  Based on a novel which I will most assuredly never read, an obsessive artist named Vermeer (Colin Firth) is commissioned by a nasty, overly flirtatious rich guy (Tom Wilkinson) to paint a portrait of Vermeer’s new hand servant Griet (Scarlett Johansson).  Even though Griet keeps to herself and says only about 50 words the entire film, she is a lightning rod for household controversy—Vermeer’s wife (Essie Davis) hates her, Vermeer’s child Cornelia hates her, the wife’s mother hates her...but, the butcher and his assistant Peter (Cillian Murphy) love her, the other house servant loves her, and of course, Vermeer adores her...but, why?  Is it for her simple looks?  Or, is it much more than that?

Maybe the book tells us that last one, because as it is, the story we are left with doesn’t take the time to fill in all the holes.  But, there is so much to marvel at with this film; its look and use of colors is perfect in setting a mood for each scene, the costumes are great (love that 10-gallon hat that Wilkinson is sporting in the film’s last half-hour), the score is a perfect match to the onscreen action and the performers feel like they are living it up in 1660s Europe.  Everyone was hyped on Johansson’s performance in “Lost in Translation”, but I think her acting is stronger in “Girl with a Pearl Earring”...her nuances, and just the work she does with her eyes and lips, almost make this movie worth seeing on their own.  I still think she looks much like an alien (or Sam Cassell of the Minnesota Timberwolves...YOU make the call) but she sure can act, even if an alarming number of her parts seem to have something to do with older men and their interest in her.  Maybe I just don’t get it.

Firth and Wilkinson are both strong, and I really enjoyed Davis’s performance as the pitiful, scorned housewife.  Really, in the movies, a woman scorned just doesn’t get old to me.  Davis (who appeared in both “Matrix” sequels last year) has it all down pat:  the jealous looks, the nose up to society, the desperate need for attention.  Oh, I was just lapping this up by the time she blows her top at the end.  Love it!

Also, “Girl with a Pearl Earring” might have the most “I’m going to lean around this corner and look into the next room while no one notices me” shots in history.  Seriously, I think every major character has at least one scene where they peer around a doorway, window or other obstacle to see what another character is doing in the next room.  Maybe that’s how everyone did it back in the mid-1600s.  Okay, I doubt it, but it made me laugh every time I saw Griet leaning around an ajar door to see what Vermeer was doing; I have never done that in real life, but it seems like in the movies, that’s all characters ever do.

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” feels more like style than substance, but if that style is executed with near perfection, well that’ll get your film nominated for four Academy Awards.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09