Take a Drink: Helen Mirren eats, drinks, or offers someone else food or drink.
Take a Drink: when a character tells us exactly what their motivation, life history, or agenda is, without any prompting from another character.
Take a Drink: whenever a procedural decision is drawn out by at least 2 seconds.
Take a Drink: whenever the scene is literally filled with gold.
Do a Shot: when the Viennese Holocaust Memorial looks incredibly underwhelming.
Finish Your Drink: whenever there’s a blending of flashback and present day.
Did you ask for a Reverse Monuments Men? Because here’s another particularly glossy, congratulatory, feel-good World War II movie anchored by a big star and that Great Generation mix of hard work and moral certitude. It is, in other words, a perfect gesture to older filmgoers and prestige picture snoots before the summer explodes with Comic Book Dinosaur Car Jousting Star Wars 7 Trailers. Woman In Gold is sometimes substantive, too, with a lovely melancholic tone and great performances by Helen Mirren and her supporting cast of cable darlings. It does exactly what it sets out to do, and there’s always something admirable about that. But it’s also so expected that the film can’t help feeling worth much less than the estimated value.
The story is of Maria Altman, once of a highly cultured high-society family in Vienna, who found her way to America after fleeing Nazi persecution. With the help of a bespectacled, puppylike lawyer and family friend played by Ryan Reynolds, she seeks to reclaim a very famous painting of her Aunt which the Nazis stole and which the Austrian government never returned. Legal stonewalling, questions of the willingness of Austria to acknowledge its complicity in the Nazi regime, and a trip to the US Supreme Court all are steps along the uphill climb towards reuniting Maria with the last vestiges of her family. There’s no point guessing how it all turns out, of course, not when Helen Mirren is rocking pearls so well.
A Toast Specifically To Tatiana Maslany:
Tatiana Maslany, we love you in Orphan Black. We know it’s probably not something our grandmothers would like to watch, but we’re definitely going to recommend Orphan Black to them after they’re through saying how that young actress did such a great job really capturing Helen Mirren’s mannerisms. It’s so true! You did! You have that incredible ability to do a range of things with your face without doing anything at all with your face, while you’re speaking lines in German, while, by the way, you’re on the run from the Gestapo. It’s no wonder the childhood flashbacks are so trite and, seemingly, slower than yours – you bring something fierce, a palpable dread, to your scenes, tilting the picture away from safe melodrama and into actually affecting melodrama. We’re not going to go on about how we’d much rather see the caustic Kelly Reichardt movie where you, Jenna Coleman, and Maisie Williams are sisters working for the tiny Austrian resistance than some uneven flashbacks motivated by the limpness of the present day drama – and that’s no knock on Mirren. She brings it just as hard as you do. We simply raise our glasses to you for an intelligent, magnetizing performance in a movie that only called for you to doe-eyes your way around some 40’s curls and floral print dresses.
A Beer Specifically For Director Simon Curtis:
On the one hand, Geez Louise was I glad to find out my initial confusion with Richard Curtis was a mistake. If you’d ever been anywhere geographically close to Notting Hill, I might’ve needed to take the Woman In Gold DCP hard drive outside and beat it with a stick. The beats of character awkwardness, the squirming supposed to endear Ryan Reynolds to the audience, are so perfunctory, and so baldly scripted, that the guy who wrote Vincent And The Doctor could not have had any part in them. Your other big credit is the equally slathered in gloss, equally bare-bones performance platform My Week With Marilyn, so Woman In Gold‘s rich color palette and cinematic drooling over period detail makes sense. Still, that opening sequence is the most Weinstein opening sequence I’ve ever seen – oblique without really being so, sumptuously decorated and slowly paced, signalling to the audience that they’re on an even footing, that the rug will never be pulled out from under them. It’s appropriate, perhaps, but it’s also a little bit schlock.
A Beer Specifically For Ryan Reynolds’ Glasses:
I know the movie is set in 1998, but those glasses are not convincing me you are a nebbishy dweeb who only finds himself equal to the art restitution case when you break down and invest emotionally in the rightness of Helen Mirren’s cause. I don’t think movie glasses have been used to attempt such blatant masking of attractiveness since Anne Hathaway sported them in The Princess Diaries. You couldn’t find an actor with a white nerd persona, Hollywood? Jonah Hill was in that Not Serial trailer right before the film! Just let Ryan Reynolds be sexy.
A Beer Specifically For The Character Actors Here For The Paycheck:
Charles Dance: Your American accent got better as you went on, so that’s fine, I guess. Obviously, having to shoehorn in those comments about Reynold’s character’s famous composer grandfather is pretty clumsy – it’s not nearly as fun to exposition if you’re not also carving up a deer – but it felt particularly so from you.
Liz McGovern: You rocked the Notorious RBG frock, but why do I feel like you slipped Mirren a tenner for that quip about more female judges? If she shows up on Downton Abbey this year as Lady Violet’s disapproving first cousin, we’ll know what’s up.
Jonathan Pryce: I’m sorry, but you are not Chief Justice William Renquist. You clearly were treating the playdate with as much gravitas as John Oliver’s Puppy Supreme Court, though, and I think that was the right call.
Daniel Brühl: Your dialogue was bad. It was italics bad. You had to play a narrative tool and you’re a much better actor than that. I’m sorry that your accent relegated you to being simply The Good Austrian. Even so, you were a team player, as friendly as possible, not stepping on anyone’s toes. I hope you and Mirren got to share some actual Scotch.
A Beer For Fantastical Endings To True Stories:
I’ve been pretty flippant, but Woman In Gold has truly affecting moments. Moments which would seem inorganic if it weren’t Helen Mirren manufacturing them, and maybe that’s the secret. Mirren and Maslany are able to transcend the sketch of the script and the rote expectations of the drama and project real grief, real trauma, and real vindication. They make this story meaningful. I was ready to walk out of this film with good vibes and one less beer in the tally. And then the ending happened, and it’s so fantastical, so saccharine, that it almost undoes all of Mirren’s good work. You go into Woman In Gold kind of knowing that justice will be done, but the film works best when making the point that even justice doesn’t cancel out Maria Altman’s loss. The tension of the film rests on the understanding that restitution is really just the best we can do, even if it isn’t enough. The ending, conflating past and present in a garish, color-graded fantasy-scape, is maybe the filmmakers’ gesture of restitution. But after Maria’s bittersweet, earned triumph, it rings hollow.
Woman In Gold is a light-moving, highly digestible, clockwork drama – at home in cynically prestige Weinstein country, where we’re transported by production gloss and great performances, but never challenged. And that’s fine. There’s a place in our culture for those, especially if they shed light on overlooked parts of our history. It’s Grandma-friendly, and Orphan Black fandom ready. If you don’t fall into either of those two categories, though, there are plenty of other great WWII movies out there.