By: Christian Harding (Two Beers) –
In these modern times of increased levels of cynicism – both in the media we consume and our real lives – a brand new film by Steven Spielberg, one of our most unapologetically earnest and optimistic working directors, is truly something to celebrate, and not just because of the prospect of getting to hear a brand new John Williams musical score. And that brings us to The BFG, a somber, understated family treat that doesn’t treat its young audience members like dummies, and respects the legacy of the novel from which it was adapted. Based on the Roald Dahl novel of the same name, The BFG centers on a young girl named Sophie living in an orphanage in London, when one night she spots a giant outside of her window, who promptly kidnaps her and takes her to a fantastical world known as Giant Country. Eventually, she befriends her captor and experiences a whole new world she never even knew existed.
This project re-teams Spielberg with Mark Rylance, who just scored Oscar gold via their last collaboration Bridge of Spies. Rylance plays the titular BFG (which stands for Big *Friendly* Giant, instead of your initial reaction), and is brought to life by stunning motion capture, with Rylance giving a performance both distinctive and grounded enough to really have the character register as a three dimensional presence, rather than a CGI abomination with a silly voice coming out of it. One thing Spielberg has always excelled at is getting really solid performances out of his child actors, with this film truly being no exception. In fact, Ruby Barnhill as Sophie very well could be the best performance by a young actress in any of Spielberg’s films, though that category is admittedly not a very competitive one. And whether or not Rylance and Barnhill ever actually interacted on set at the same time is irrelevant; the fact remains that they have wonderful chemistry with one another, and the two of them share more than a few truly moving “Spielbergian” moments of virtually dialogue free, atmosphere-heavy interactions that are easily the highlight of the film, and prove that modern day family entertainment doesn’t always have to be noisy or quick-paced in order to be effective.
Confirmed: big, friendly, *and* giant.
For all the film gains through being a lean, straightforward fairly tale, it also adds to its detriment a little. For a while it’s perfectly content to just be an episodic series of misadventures between Sophie and the BFG, but some narrative heft towards the end is necessary to give it a little momentum. And the film does this, but in a really odd fashion. Being bound by the plot of the original source novel, The BFG takes a sudden and bizarre turn in the third act towards the purely comical. It’s all well done and provides a lot of laughs, but tonally feels at odds with the hour of film which came before it. Not that it derails the entire film or anything, but it’s worth noting. That being said, I definitely give the film props for tweaking the final outcome of the story a tad, and adding a better sense of finality than what the novel did.
The most unrealistic thing about this film (which contains actual giants and dream-catching magic) is how competently the British government is portrayed.
While not one of Steven Spielberg’s all-time greatest achievements, The BFG is nonetheless a charming piece of family entertainment, and one that relies on the strengths of its tone, characters, and story to provide entertainment, rather than cramming as much noise and movement into every frame as possible. In a summer where something like The Angry Birds Movie is still trying to out-Shrek the Shrek series with as much meta humor and pop culture references as they can throw at you in an hour and a half, here’s a rare summer family film that aims to soothe and comfort its audience with a creative and unusual means to tell a story – a welcome change of pace for sure, at least in the mind of this filmgoer.
The BFG (2016) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: for every “human bean”
Do another Shot: each time someone does a “whizpopper”
Chug a Beer: if the BFG comes across as more creepy to you, rather than friendly.
Take a Commemorative Shot: for this being the final screenplay from the late Melissa Mathison.
Try not to finish your entire supply of alcohol: during the seemingly endless parade of logos preceding the film (seriously, how and when did this become a thing!?)