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"Notes on a Scandal"

Directed by Richard Eyre.
Written by Patrick Marber.  Based on a novel by Zoe Heller.
Starring Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Andrew Simpson and Bill Nighy.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  12/30/06


Is Judi Dench ever going to be bad in a movie?

Maybe she was prior to my first encounter with her, back in "Goldeneye" in '95; she had been getting nominated for her acting for the 30 years prior to that, so she was already a legend when I first learned of her.  In the last ten years, she's been in so many American and British productions I can't keep up, but I dare say she's been brilliant in all of them.

So, "Notes on a Scandal" is no exception; Dench plays Barbara Covett, a teacher at the local school who writes a diary in her spare time and has nothing nice to say about any of her fellow teachers, especially the newest one, art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett).  However, after helping Sheba sort out a fight between two kids, Barbara hits it off with the school's newest--and apparently, most beautiful--addition, and the two women embark on a friendship that means the Barbara.  Sheba doesn't have much time to hang out, because when she's not hangin' out with her family--including an older spouse (Bill Nighy), a daughter and a son with Down syndrome--she's bangin' one of her 15-year-old students, Steven Connelly (Andrew Simpson).

Oh, did that come out too quickly?  What, you frown upon 37-year-olds bangin' 15-year-olds?

Yeah, well, Sheba apparently doesn't, and one day, Barbara finds out about it...but, instead of being a genuinely-caring friend, Barbara uses the affair as a way to cement her relationship with Sheba, even holding it over her; if Sheba ends the affair with the young man, then Barbara promises to be the bestest best friend EVER!


Yeah, you might have guessed--but certainly, if you see this, it will be obvious--this Barbara is somewhere between really insane and totally insane.  As such, it's fun to see how this whole fucking-a-fifteen-year-old bit is going to work out for the relevant parties, but the theme is one of total insanity.  How could Sheba do such a thing?  How could she KEEP doing such a thing?  How will the husband react when he finds out?  How will the nation feel when they learn that teachers are out there preying on their students?

And, how will Barbara react when Sheba doesn't feel the need to be there for her new bestest best buddy when her freakin' cat dies?  Exactly!

The energy of the performers, especially in the second half of the film, is flat-out awesome.  Even though my buddy Chi and I agreed that the film may have been a bit predictable, you get over such things when the acting is just so damned good.  Will I see it again?  No.  But, while I was in there, man, it was fun watching Dench work.  Nighy is always great, and he is allowed to shine late in the movie; surprisingly, Simpson was very good as the kid with a few sweet notches on the headboard thanks to his new fuckbuddy--his freakin' art teacher!!

Ultimately, though, I think that "Notes on a Scandal" is almost too insane; not too insane to be believed, since teachers sleeping with students is certainly an extreme idea, but in certain moments, it has a dramatic overflow to it that is a little bit of a stretch.  It made for great cinema, though, so I can't complain that much.  Good times!

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