By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
A filmmaker can make a film so excellent that I give them a free pass for life. Whatever they make next, I will watch it, irrespective of quality of reviews even. Terence Davies, after his gorgeous The Deep Blue Sea, is such a filmmaker.
Seriously, get on it.
A Quiet Passion even had the reviews and premise going for it- Cynthia Nixon starring as a witty conception of the all-time great poet Emily Dickinson, a woman and an artist ahead of her time.
Like many filmmakers who set out to make a period piece, the usually elegiac Terence Davies ensures that A Quiet Passion is well set, coiffed, and costumed. His script is also clearly in love with the spoken word, some of which are indeed amusing. Cynthia Nixon is having a lot of fun and delivers lines better than the rest, except for the simultaneously stodgy and forward-thinking Keith Carradine as her father.
The young Emily Dickinson prequel scenes are teeth-gratingly bad. Social straw dogs are set up and immediately knocked down (vituperatively religious schoolmarm, casually sexist father, pro-slavery old diddy, etc, etc), and Dickinson comes off as a 21st Century woman who’s time-traveled to this precise instant to tell them all like it really is. Considering none of these social ills are exactly anachronisms themselves, I have to ask… Why?
Every piece of dialogue is engineered for maximum wit, very clearly by someone who feels possessing of a thoroughly modern sensibility and a sparkling comic wit (not accusations ever made of Davies before now, to the best of my knowledge). The first half of this script could have been rendered as a series of four-panel funny pages cartoon and dispensed as such across several months with no noticeable difference. Catherine Bailey’s Vryling Buffam (a real human name if I ever saw one) is the worst- she literally speaks in nothing but overlabored setups and punchlines.
Snap! my good man.
The casting is bizarre- the scene where Dickinson’s brother begs his father to allow him to do his heroic duty in the Civil War is undercut just a tad by the father being played by the 68-year old Carradine and the son by the 53-year old Duncan Duff (they look even less separated by age on the screen). Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle play sisters who are somewhere between 25 and 55 years of age, depending on the dramatic and comedic contents of the scene, and not particularly due to the passage of time.
Did you know that Emily Dickinson was the foremost feminist and atheist of the 19th Century? No, me (and literally every biographer of the real historical figure), either. This film displays no interest in Emily Dickinson the real human person who actually lived nor Emily Dickson, Sublime Poet, but rather the same bizarrely invented conception of Emily Dickinson, Social Rebel.
It’s hard to determine just what A Quiet Passion is supposed to be- a biopic drama, an anachronistic farce, a high-minded meditation or a feather-light amusement? Whatever it was supposed to be, it doesn’t work.
A Quiet Passion (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever somebody does something age-inappropriate
Take a Drink: whenever religion is presented as ridiculous
Take a Drink: for every witty bon mot
Take a Drink: whenever somebody defies social mores
Do a Shot: for each Dickinson poem quoted
Do a Shot: for hot George Washington takes