October 20, 2012 at 1:53 am #264460
Variety review by Brian Lowry:
Two facts are already well known: Alfred Hitchcock loved casting cool blondes in his films, and Tippi Hedren was plucked from obscurity to star in two of them, “The Birds” and “Marnie.” The director’s obsession with, and abuse of, that particular leading lady provides the basis for “The Girl,” an intoxicating HBO/BBC collaboration anchored by splendid performances from Toby Jones and Sienna Miller. Now 82, Hedren has publicly endorsed this account, and even with dramatic embellishment, it’s a story likely to leave anyone weaned on the Hitchcock filmography feeling — pardon the expression — spellbound.
If there’s a serious flaw in “The Girl” — and one would certainly be hard-pressed to find one in Miller’s resemblance to the ravishing Hedren, or Jones’ uncanny replication of Hitchcock’s voice and mannerisms — it’s only in the 91-minute movie being almost too economical. A bit more backstory about the key players, given the strength of these characterizations, would only have enriched the experience.
Principally a model, Hedren is as surprised as anyone to be contacted by Hitchcock, the assumption being the real stars of “The Birds” will be adorned in feathers, not fashion. At first, his behavior is slightly odd — the occasional suggestive limerick — but nothing to truly alarm her. Besides, what an opportunity to land a role sought by “every actress on the planet.”
Once she’s cast, though Hitchcock grows more daring, including a fumbling pass, followed by a grueling five-day shoot of the sequence where Hedren’s character gets attacked in the attic, apparent punishment for rebuffing his advances. (Scenes from the film’s production, mounted here in South Africa, are meticulously re-created.)
Director Julian Jarrold (“Kinky Boots”) and writer Gwyneth Hughes, working from a book by Donald Spoto, use Hitchcock’s drunken confessions and asides by his wife, Alma (Imelda Staunton) — who seems almost complicit in the tawdry ordeal — as well as his loyal secretary (“Downton Abbey’s” Penelope Wilton) to address some of the fundamental questions. After all, many Hitchcock stars were beautiful; what prompted him to single out Hedren for such extreme mistreatment?
Whatever the motivation, the way the movie unfolds is fascinating, featuring the best work of Miller’s career, and Jones so inhabiting Hitchcock — trapped within his grotesque frame — as to quickly get past impersonation to a darker portrayal of genius.
The technical achievements also can’t be overstated, including Nadine Prigge’s makeup design, vague echoes of Bernard Herrmann in Philip Miller’s score and the way John Pardue’s camera bores in on the director as he gazes, longingly and pathetically, at Hedren.
Granted, a few snippets of dialogue feel a little too pat — more perfect than one suspects people conjure under duress — and the closing postscript perhaps overreaches in implying a link between the film’s events and the trajectory of Hitchcock’s career thereafter. Some might also wince (as a New York Times interview with Hedren seemed to) at maligning a cinematic giant who’s been dead more than 30 years, given the rightful admiration of the director’s work.
Nevertheless, the subject matter will be almost irresistible to a core of movie lovers, while falling into a realm perfectly suited to HBO, where the prestige associated with a small but promotable movie isn’t burdened by any of the box office concerns that will face “Hitchcock,” another film about the director, due later this year.
Perhaps foremost, “The Girl” ultimately contains a resonant theme — how one woman maintained her dignity while faced with such an abuse of power. Seen that way, this snapshot of cinematic history offers much more than a mere “Birds”-eye-view.October 20, 2012 at 12:57 pm #264462
Jones’ reviews are really strong – feel slightly bad that he keeps having to compare to other actors in the same part:
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Based on “Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies” — Donald Spoto’s 2009 account of the director’s ongoing obsessions with Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman et al — this dramatized account picks up the story of Tippi Hedren’s (Sienna Miller) fraught experiences on the set of “The Birds” (1963) and “Marnie” (1964).
How fraught? The old boy — played by Toby Jones (“The Hunger Games“) — repeatedly hit on her, and after rejecting him, he made her fend off live birds for five days straight. Also starring Imelda Staunton (the “Harry Potter” films) as Alma, Hitch’s long-suffering spouse.
MY SAY Viewers with differing life experiences may come at this film with differing, possibly opposing, reactions. Any woman who has had to fend off a lecherous sociopath in the office will likely be sympathetic to Hedren. But it’s not clear the film is sympathetic to her.
Just imagine! The story of a beautiful actress who had to fight off the advances of a lascivious director? What is Hollywood coming to anyway? But Jones is the big and happy surprise here. At first, he plays Hitch like a randy funeral parlor director. But his portrayal slowly accrues facets — and power. He’s smitten, cruel, creepy, demanding, manipulative and alternatively sexually repressed or aggressive. But he’s also generous, lonely, self-loathing and self-medicating.
Miller‘s Hedren is cool, distant, humorless, whiny and reproving. She’s the perfect block of ice. He’s the flawed human. Take your pick from the “Who’s More Interesting?” category. Hitchcock was also one of the greatest directors in cinematic history. She was (sorry) a two-hit wonder, and they were his hits. However, she has said he blackballed her afterward, ruining her career. To an extent, this robs a well-made film of any real dramatic power. It often feels inert, or even a bit plodding. Hitch himself would demand a bit more tension — or maybe he’d just order up more birds.
BOTTOM LINE Film lovers will — possibly against their better judgment — love Jones‘ “Hitch.”
GRADE B+October 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm #264463
Alfred Hitchcock is creepy . . . no wonder he never won an Oscar. 😉October 21, 2012 at 12:54 am #264464
I just watched this movie. And Toby Jones was AMAZING in it! The way he portrayed Alfred Hitchcock, in a creepy way, is just outstanding. This man deserves the Emmy for this film.
Sienna Miller was good in it as well, but no where near as good as Toby Jones.October 21, 2012 at 3:15 am #264465
Toby Jones and Sienna Miller were spectacular. Both deserve every award. Sadly none of them will get it. Toby will lose Globe and SAG to overrated Kevin Costner cause HFPA voters are stars fuckers/SAG voters are sheep. Sienna Miller gave the best performance of her career and sorry Julianne Moore, she was better and deserves Golden Globe and SAG you are going to get. Great movie btw.October 21, 2012 at 9:40 am #264466
Yes, that was great. I fell asleep during some of the Marnie parts… but I recorded it, so I can watch it again when more alert. Stunning job by Jones and Miller. I grew up watching Hitchcock on TV… and love his films. Was just in Bodega Bay a couple of years ago, and visited some of the locations of The Birds. The schoolhouse is still there.October 23, 2012 at 7:49 am #264467
I haven’t been enthused with an HBO Films production since Temple Grandin, and this outing didn’t alter the trend. The first half was moody and competent. The second half anemic and sometimes overblown. Both leads were only interesting because of the people they were playing. Toby fared a bit better. I think the entire movie would have fared better if they had focused primarily on the filming of The Birds, and what Tippi went through during it.