Monday, January 15, 2007

Notes on a Scandal


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.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dench, Nighy and Blanchett are three good reasons to see any movie, period.

Nice blog! I'll be back...

Mo! said...

"The presence of Dame Dench lets you celebrate this yearning without any guilt. It's like Masterpiece Theater with all the starch removed."

Haha, you might be the only blogger who feels guilt over this.

Reel Fanatic said...

Perhaps, Mo! ... It faded away very quickly, though ... This movie sounded pretty pedestrian to me on paper, but it definitely delivers more than it promises

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Keith. Keep knocking those words out.
And thank you so much for coming by my own site and commenting on my reviews of "Venus."

Next up for me: a book review.

Marina said...

Great review. I thought the same thing - though much more understated, Blanchett and Nighy were excellent.

Looking forward to your review of "The Aura". Have recently heard some talk about that one.

Anonymous said...

Keith, did you see the new low of verbal agility that NY Times Caryn James has used? "Ick Factor" appears as in a headline for her review of "Venus." Bravo! NY Times. I love to see them falter.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

This film is another one I got to see this past weekend...I thiught the three priciples were all superb! Dame Judi certainly has one of the greatest artistic gifts of our time..and Cate B 7 the always fabuloys Bill N. both are actors I would go out of my way to see, in anything! What a threesome in this strange and riviting picture...all that you say about the script resonated with me, too!

Thanks for your visit and I will be back to see you again!

Anonymous said...

I love Nighy and Blanchett but I've seen this trailer about 7 times and the damn thing gives the entire story away. Yeah, it's one of those trailers.

Reel Fanatic said...

It does indeed, Replicant, but I still wouldn't advise not seeing it because of that .. the beauty in this movie isn't really in the story, but instead in Dame Judi Dench's performance

Anonymous said...

My favourite Dame Dench flick is The Last of the Blonde Bombshells which suffered in the public eye due to its unfortunate title. A definite recommendation if you haven't seen it already!

Reel Fanatic said...

I have to say it is my favorite thing about writing about this blog that people fairly often recommend things I have never heard of, which you have managed to do again, Diana .. I will definitely add that to my Netflix list, because like the rest of the world, I just love anything starring Dame Judi Dench

Anonymous said...

There's always Peter Hall's A Midsummer Night's Dream as discussed by my pal, Steven Rubio, here: http://begonias.typepad.com/srubio/2006/02/oscar_run_xv_mr.html

Or you can just search for "Dench" on his blog: http://begonias.typepad.com/srubio/

I don't know that I could handle a mostly naked Dench, even in 1969.

arvind caulagi said...

the movie sounds quite interesting...hopefully i get ot see it....

Anonymous said...

movie > book
I mean, I liked the book and its a well-heeled novel, but the movie bypasses the novel's largest piece of trickery by simply switching voice overs.
The book would have been better if I hadn't already read "The Collector" by John Fowles.

Reel Fanatic said...

The book may turn out to be a disappointment, but when I see a movie that just catches me so completely by surprise, I almost always go the library to check out what inspired it

Pop Culture Diva said...

This movie reminded me of Single White Female only it had a bad-ass old British lady. Dame Judy was so compelling that the audience kept laughing that nervous laughter when you know someone is crazy and out of line but is secretly amusing. Blanchett was incredibly flawed and fragile. Brilliant!

Reel Fanatic said...

I know exactly what you mean, Diva ... There were several points when it seemed like she was actually chiding the audience with that crazy look, daring us to laugh .. I found myself starting and stopping very often

Anonymous said...

ooo! i wanted to see this after seeing the previews but your review has made me want to see it even more.

PS
thanks for visiting!