How in the world could anyone take a story that seems ripped straight from the tabloids and turn it into one of the most engaging and thrilling movies of 2006? After seeing "Notes on a Scandal," I'm still not sure how, but screenwriter Patrick Marber, Dame Judi Dench and others certainly did pull off this rather remarkable coup.
It's easy to forget while you're watching this movie just how salacious its subject is. A teacher at a London public school (Cate Blanchett) starts a fling with a 15-year-old student, risking everything, including her family life with husband Bill Nighy. On top of that, add a lonely, more-than-slighty-off-kilter fellow teacher (Dame Dench) who takes more than a friendly interest in Blanchett's character and pursues that to extreme ends, and you've got the makings of a great psychological thriller.
Besides, you might as well admit it: Even if we don't read the tabloids, we all at least stop on E! or other shows when they're dishing the juiciest of gossip. We all have an appetite for trash, even if we keep it in the closet. The presence of Dame Dench lets you celebrate this yearning without any guilt. It's like Masterpiece Theater with all the starch removed.
And what manages to keep it just inches above the gutter throughout is a remarkable performance from Dame Dench. As she goes to great lengths to destroy the lives of those around her, and possibly her own, you never know exactly what's driving her actions. Certainly, she's more than a little crazy and, quite possibly, evil, but also very lonely and clearly more than a little sick as well. That she manages to invoke sympathy even as she unleashes a wave of destruction is the trademark of how great her work is here.
And the script by Marber, based on a novel by Zoe Heller (which I will soon be reading), gives her plenty of juicy material to chew on, much of which comes in the form of her narrating her inner thoughts. I don't think her performance will be enough to derail the Dame Helen Mirren train, but we'll find out soon enough (with the Golden Globes tonight, don't forget!).
Even though they suffer a bit in her shadow, Blanchett and Nighy still manage to deliver first-rate work as well. Blanchett's performance, while understated, is just flighty enough to make us believe she would jump into the arms of a 15-year-old. And Nighy keeps it all pent up until near the end, when an offhand comment from Blanchett finally sets him off. It's a slow burn well worth following until the explosion.
All in all a very satisfying start to my movie weekend in Atlanta. The next day, my brother and I went to see "The Aura," the final movie from Argentinian director Fabien Bielinsky (who only lived long enough to make two flicks.) I won't get to a review of that fairly excellent flick until tomorrow, so please feel free to check in then. Peace out.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Posted by Reel Fanatic at 10:55 AM