Admittedly I am not a big fan of period dramas. I find them pretentious and with most actors performing in a constrained manner, so they seem prim and proper, they often do come off dull to me. However, post-Belle, I did find myself curious about this film. After all, it does have Jessica Lange and Elizabeth Olsen in it, as well as the familiar face of Tom Felton. But, with no mention of Jane Austen, one of the few whose adaptations can liven up a period drama, I walked in hesitant and perhaps rightfully so.
Characters & Story
Poor Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) has found herself dumped with her Aunt Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange) and sickly cousin Camille (Tom Felton). To make matters worse though, Madame fully expects Therese to dedicate her life to nursing and entertaining Camille. Even to the point of marrying the boy. So, naturally, when a young man named Laurent (Oscar Isaac) comes around and not only presents himself as interesting, but less coddled and childish than Camille, it sparks something in Therese. But how far will she go in seeking some way to appease her lust and happiness? That is the question which lingers throughout the movie.
The first act of the film, in which we meet and get to know the main cast, makes for quite an entertaining picture. Olsen, as Therese, is quite fitting for the expression the Olsen sisters seem to have in their eyes, this sort of sadness even when they smile, makes Therese quite the sympathetic character. And while I am no fan of Tom Felton, with him popping up in multiple movies I've been watching, I must admit that playing multi-dimensional pathetic men seems to be something he is quite good at. For while I do feel bad for Therese, Felton as Camille certainly draws your sympathies as well since you can tell between him wanting to assert himself, and truly make Therese happy, he does try. It is just that Therese wants a more traditional man over a momma's boy.
Which makes Isaac as Laurent quite a burst of fresh air. I mean, watching Therese, who can't even deal with breathing the same air because of how mad she is with lust, was quite amusing, as is their whole relationship. I'd even say that the two have good enough chemistry, in the first act, that it makes you hope the two actors would work with each other again.
However, once the climax happens and the 2nd act begins, watching the movie certainly becomes a chore. Be it the odd whispery voice of Shirley Henderson repeating "Madame" over and over; Therese and Laurent losing their appeal as a couple; or even Jessica Lange having a stroke and trying to give a quality performance using just one hand and eye movements, the 2nd act is simply a struggle to sit through. Not to forget, both Olsen and Lange portrayal of guilt and grief is so over dramatic that it really is quite a liability for the 2nd act. Especially as we see Therese's guilt eat at her and cause her to fight with Laurent. Making for when the film ends, it isn't something which saddens you but gives you such a feeling of relief.
Overall: Skip It
Consider me spoiled by the likes of Belle and the few Jane Austen movies I've seen. For with a lack of sarcasm or wit, and not even aesthetically pleasing attire to attract the shallowness of the eyes, it is hard to say this film gives any real quality reasons to sit through the whole thing. Which is unfortunate since the first act surely presented a decent film, but the climax somehow stole away all the life of the film and left us with a bumbling mess. Hence why the label "Skip It" is given. Even with the first half of the film being pleasant, the 2nd half is so exasperating that it ruins the film as a whole.