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"Mrs. Henderson Presents"

Directed by Stephen Frears ("Dangerous Liaisons", "High Fidelity").
Written by Martin Sherman.
Starring Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Kelly Reilly and Christopher Guest.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  2/15/06

Folks--

In trying to catch as many Oscar-nominated films as I can, I have been stuck at times trying to get off my ass to see movies that I certainly don't want to see but I feel like it's my duty to attend; "Mrs. Henderson Presents", last year's British drama about a 70-something widower named Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench), fits into this category.  This has nothing to do with Dench, who I always love no matter what the material...no, this had to do with the fact that I haven't heard anything too glowing about the overall film, and I was going to see this flick mostly to see why Dench earned her fifth Oscar nomination in the last nine years.

Based on the real Laura Henderson, the film picks up with her life story just after her husband has passed away.  Finding widowhood to be quite a bore, she spends some of her dead spouse's money on an old theater and decided to revive the place with some good ol' fashioned (at least, 1920s-style "ol' fashioned) musical revues...so, with the help of an out-of-work stage director (co-star and exec producer Bob Hoskins), Mrs. Henderson gets her new acquisition off the ground in glorious fashion, in part because of her stage director's decision to stage shows all day after the lunch hour.  Once the other theaters in town begin to copy this idea, Mrs. Henderson goes for the jugular: despite city laws prohibited it onstage, she attempts to convince the city's authority on such matters (a fantastic role performed by Christopher Guest, of "Best in Show" fame) that it would be a good idea to allow her to have nude artists perform in her shows.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Directed by veteran Stephen Frears, "Mrs. Henderson Presents" never seems to rise about middling; in terms of its staged song-and-dance numbers and in terms of the bit parts performed by the other cast members, it never seems to be aspiring to be anything more than ehhh.  The side characters are never really fleshed out, save for one of the girls in the cast (Kelly Reilly) that quickly becomes the nude actresses' de-facto leader...but, even in her case, we don't really get to know her until late, when Mrs. Henderson attempts to set her up on a date with a visiting GI.  We see that the British and American soldiers respond well to nude breasts during the show's nude moments, but the audience in general never becomes a character, if that makes sense...they applaud each show and hoot 'n holler whenever a nude woman makes an appearance on stage, but there are no real moments where the crowd reacts strangely to any one set piece, or where the crowd is overly enthusiastic about a particular dance number.  They are just kind of sitting there, like I was doing.

While the list of average things about this movie could run for a while (I even thought that the costumes did not stand out, yet whammo, they were nominated for an Oscar in that category too), Dench's performance is worth a look but at no point while watching this film did I find myself saying, "Oh, THIS is what they thought was Oscar-worthy."  The role is certainly something to celebrate, but in many years, I don't think that Dench's work here would have been enough to launch her into nominee territory.  Still, Dench gives a lot of vigor to this part; the energy level of this woman would be a sight to behold in real life, because Mrs. Henderson is bouncing around all movie long, and who wouldn't want to have the strength to row your own boat at age 72???

Hoskins still brings it every time out, and following up his great performance in the underrated Jet Li film "Unleashed", he is excellent here as the antagonist of Mrs. Henderson.  Guest is solid in his bit part (the rare US-born actor that gets to portray an Englishman), and the stage performers have pep even if they are never fully realized.  The tunes are okay, but not catchy; sometimes, the film's funniest lines are delivered by the most unlikely source--Mrs. Henderson's best friend, Lady Conway (Thelma Barlow)--but fail to surface in the dialogue spoken between other characters.

By the time I walked out, I thought that "Mrs. Henderson Presents" was just average, but I'm glad I got to see Dench in another great role.  There's no way she'll win the big one on Draft Day, but this is just another notch for her in what has been a fabulous later-in-life career in American and British films.

Rating:  Matinee

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

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 bad...man, 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/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09