Every Friday morning I forgive Times-Picayune movie writer Mike Scott his minor review crutches: holding readers hands via dramatic-pause ellipses and half-italicized words (Cloverfield, an apocalyptic attack on the Big Apple by an enormous ... something); reaching for clever and accidentally grasping icky (Sex and the City's abominable whoresome foursome); or forever relying on the most ham-fisted ledes (Horton Hears a Who!, worth quoting in toto: The live-action Grinch flick fell well short of killer, ?and its cat-in-hat cousin was litter-box filler. But with Horton, a Seuss film that's long been awaited,? the doc proves he's best when his stuff's animated). Really, the fault lies with an editor when floaters like This, yall, is movie magic (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) arent immediately excised from newspaper copy.
But Scotts two-and-a-half-star estimation of Ive Loved You So Long, which appeared as a sort of throwaway addendum in the screen section of this weeks Lagniappe, felt so lazily reasoned and hastily written as to be considered an insult to both the professions of filmmaking and film criticism. Lets revisit the wreckage.
Juliettes got a secret, he surmises at the outset, a juicy, if heartbreaking, one, and when the payoff comes, mon Dieu, it is ever powerful. French-fried phrasing aside, no problems there. In the meantime, however, theres a long, tedious wait as director Philippe Claudel weaves an ennui-filled tale that seems to exist only to serve its gut-punch ending. (Better title: Ive Loved You Sooooooo Looooooong.)
OK, stop tape. Thats just a terrible joke from any angle, but its hardly the gravest of that paragraphs ills. My impression of the film was actually the opposite: that the ending, while certainly a punch to the gut, seemed somewhat obvious at the close of such carefully and subtly wrought dramatic tension. Claudels story is only partially about what Juliette did per se; more to the point, its about what it has done (and continues to do) to her as she tries, painfully and often unsuccessfully, to move on with her life.
Apparently all this was creeping by too painfully slowly for Scott. He glosses over several of Juliettes most telling vignettes with a repeated, white-flag adjective: a silent rendezvous with her sister thats almost palpably awkward (emotionless) gets the same treatment as a tempestuous job interview that ends in resigned shame (emotionless). In a colossal misreading of the directors intent, he terms a fling in a hotel room one of the saddest moments in a very sad film emotionless but funny. And in a climactic dinner-party scene that crackles with missed connections, he admits, my attention drifted to the bamboo floors my wife wants. Im guessing emotionless, though. Is paying attention for 115 straight minutes and using more than one descriptor too much to ask from the citys only full-time film critic?
While stacked with intriguing character studies, the films driving force is Kristin Scott Thomas (misspelled throughout the piece as Kristen Scott-Thomas), who wrings out every possible ounce of feeling from Juliette. Its a clinic of minimalist performance, and in his closing statement, Scott gives her the requisite shout-out and us a passive hint at what a better review might've looked like. A credible argument can be made, in fact, that her performance rescues the film, he writes. A similar argument can be made, however, that she does so only barely.
Those sound suspiciously like the same argument to me. But Im still waiting to hear either one.