A Crash Diet and Convalescent Moviegoing: Jane Eyre and Please Give

I’m on Day Six of the worst stomach flu I’ve had in my life. Six days in bed, six days without food (besides Jello and a few Saltines), six days home from the office.

But let’s look at the bright side…

I’ve needed to lose a few pounds. Done.

And I’ve managed to see a couple of good films…

On Tuesday night, when I thought that I was getting over it, I attended a sneak preview of the new Jane Eyre in downtown Seattle. I had worked with some local publicists to set up the screening for an audience of students from Seattle Pacific University, and I participated in a post-screening discussion of the film with Dr. Christine Chaney and the editor of Response magazine, Hannah Notess.

There was much to discuss, and many students stayed to consider Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation. The film is a big surprise. While the first act feels rushed, the whole is impressive. It doesn’t feel like “a Jane Eyre for 2011″ – just a great Jane Eyre.

The performances are strong. Michael Fassbender is rough and roguish, as usual, and Judi Dench is as enjoyable as you might expect. But this is Mia Wasikowska’s film, and now I see why Wasikowska’s a big deal. Jane Eyre could be a very bland, boring character. She’s so straight-and-narrow, so quiet, so burdened. But Wasikowska gives a performance of quiet complexity and power.

It’s beautifully shot, finding elegance in a muted color palette, reminding me of Jane Campion’s The Piano. And, like The Piano, Jane Eyre has a beautiful score.

The screenplay preserves Bronte’s prose without sounding too ponderous. And it’s remarkably unafraid of the book’s faith-related themes. While I expected another period-piece update that would demonize Christianity, it doesn’t do that at all.

So get ready for a springtime surprise. As other studios are dumping mediocrity into cineplexes, Focus Features has given us a film to remember when we make our top ten lists at the end of 2011.

I also caught up with Nicole Holofcener’s film Please Give, which is now on Netflix. Looks like I need to revise my list of 2010 favorites. Please Give is a surprisinlgy thoughtful comedy with endearing and nuanced characters. While it’s wrapped in barbed wire – its hard-truth humor is likely to make you wince – it has a big heart. Excellent work from the whole cast, but I especially enjoyed Oliver Platt, Catherine Keener, and Rebecca Hall.

Perhaps the most memorable thing about the film is Holofcener’s willingness to give prominence to some unglamorous elderly characters. It is, sadly, very unusual to see elderly characters in American cinema at all, unless they’re idealized as saints, gurus, or eternally young. They play important roles here in an insightful story about family, responsibility, and aging.

I’m hoping that a lot of rest, hourly cups of tea, and a couple of good movies a day will get me back on my feet soon.

If you have a favorite Get Well Soon movie recommendation, I’ll take it!

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.


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