If ever a movie taught me not to let critics influence my decision to see something, this is it.
I remember when this came out in the theater and the overall consensus of the major critics was that this film was a huge disappointment, if not a complete failure. Wow. (scratches head)
Having been a huge fan of the book (I read it twice before I saw the film) I went to see it anyway without high expectations, and was surprised to say the least. I love this film, and it brought me to tears several times. And like other posters, I thought that it was a rare film adaptation that does justice to the book and then some.
Aside from the fact the film remains true to the book, which will please many fans, the performances are excellent across the board. Annette Bening, in my humble opinion, was robbed of an Oscar nomination. She delivers nothing less than a tour-de-force. I mean, it truly amazes me how she was overlooked along with this whole movie. And Joseph Cross should have had a nomination as well. He shines the light and the heartbreak in this boy with dead-on accuracy. This is a remarkable story that I guess is hard to believe for many people, even in the strange, dysfunctional world we live in. I think all of the actors made this story truly believable. Even Gwyneth, who has very little screen time unfortunately, makes the most of it, with a wonderfully low-key, quirky turn. Her scene cooking "the stew", in braids, is one of my favorite moments. And how could they not notice Jill Clayburgh??!! She manages to ground this story, ironically, with sanity. She conveys grace and maternal love and kindness, wringing these emotions from an almost grotesquely-written character. No easy feat. I will admit Evan Rachel Wood is the only actor I felt was a bit miscast if you are being true to the book. She's just cooler and sexier than I imagined the character to be. But she reminded me of someone else i grew up with in an uncanny way, that's how good she is at balancing smart and damaged, as a girl who grew up too fast for her own good, but somehow manages to prevail. I loved her nonetheless, just in a different way than I did in the book.
The pacing, the tone, the lighting, the music, the respect the director showed this story is really stunning as well. Anyone who grew up in the late 70's (like myself) in a dysfunctional home with a rather eccentric mother will probably experience this as movie magic, and feel uncomfortably at home watching this, like being transported back in time. You may even smell your mother's shag carpeting and scented candles like I did. The clothing the characters are wearing, especially Augusten, made me feel like I was back in grade school myself...wearing a polyester plaid vest and tie and out-of-synch with my peers. The imagery really rang true for me, along with "Your the poetry man" playing in the background.
Maybe the problem was that not a lot of people can relate to this story, and it seems too preposterous for them to even suspend their disbelief for a couple of hours? I've never felt compelled to write a commentary up here until now because I really believe this work was done an injustice by the critics. However I don't think, as a viewer, you would necessarily need to relate to this story to enjoy the film. But I can't help but wonder if I'm wrong about that, because it might explain the poor reception from so many critics.
I also trust completely that over time many will discover this movie and be moved to both laughter and tears, and be completely absorbed in it. It's a twisted, sometimes hilarious but mostly heartbreaking tale, based on true events, and it is, in my opinion, a beautiful film. It's a gem.