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Academy Award-Winner Gwyneth Paltrow stars in this powerfully passionate true story of legendary American author and poet, Sylvia Plath. While on a Fulbright Scholarship to England, Sylvia meets Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig), a British poet on the verge of international fame. Following a torrid four month courtship, they marry and embark on an intense relationship. When Ted's subsequent literary success and the attentions of admiring women strains the marriage, Sylvia funnels her fury and passion into her own work which begins to flow forth in unstoppable bursts. This true story of love and tragic passion is "One of the most beautiful films of the year." (New York Observer)
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Sylvia Plath's story is a desperate and tragic one. However, the movie dwells on her depression to the extent that it appears the writer never had a happy moment after her honeymoon. Even the film's use of color reflects this unhappy mood. Plath dresses in warm colors up until her wedding, after which her clothes and the ambient colors become darker and darker. Her writer's block is clearly shown but her periods of extreme productivity, especially toward the end of her life, when, writing through the nights she poured poetry onto the page with almost manic energy, are not really portrayed. All the biographies I have read on Sylvia Plath discuss the joy she found in motherhood. Her exhaustion caring for two small children, taking care of her home and writing is evident throughout the movie, as it was in real life. But nowhere is Ms. Plath shown laughing and playing with her children, with the exception of a brief Christmas scene. Her small daughter is almost always shown toddling behind her mother, a bewildered, sad expression on her face. Nor does the movie show Ms. Plath's tremendous struggle to live, fighting against her overwhelming depression. The contrasts between happiness and deep sorrow, energy and listlessness, struggle for control over her demons and loss of control are strangely absent. The character of Sylvia Plath ultimately comes across as a relatively passive figure, at the mercy of her mental illness, whose moods are closely tied to her husband's demonstrations of affection and attention.
Gwyneth Paltrow does a wonderful job, as always, given the material she had to work with. Her performance is sensitive and intense. The few times she recites poetry, including a wonderful scene where she does a small bit from Chaucer's "Wife of Bath" in Middle English, are extraordinary. Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes is excellent, capturing the magnetic charisma of the poet, his bewilderment as his relationship falls apart, and his careless indifference toward Sylvia's suffering and his children's vulnerability. Blythe Danner, Paltrow's mother in real life, is excellent in the role of Plath's mother and Michael Gambon does an extraordinary job as the sympathetic downstairs neighbor.
I have been a big fan of Sylvia Plath's poetry for many years and have read some excellent biographies on the poet as well as work by Ted Hughes. This is a difficult review for me to write because I want to be objective about the film, which does oversimplify Ms. Plath's life. We get the facts but not the depth. There is a tremendous lack of scope here. If one is not familiar with Plath and her work I am not sure that the movie would inform with more than a melodramatic overview of her life. As stated above, the acting is fine and the photography appropriately moody. For a more comprehensive experience I would suggest reading some of Ms. Plath's exceptional poetry, if you haven't already, before viewing the film.
I absolutely don't blame her for saying so. If someone made a movie about my parent or family member, I would likely hate them and reject the whole ridiculous idea. The film itself, however, sensitively portrays both the life and the death of the author, and Gweneth, whatever you might think of her silly side project Goop or her uncoupling, is here an eerily brilliant actress giving one of her best performances.
The plot of the film makes it an often uncomfortable viewing, but it has many rewarding moments of inspiration as well. They incorporate SOME of her best poetry (hard to do in a film) and evokes some very difficult relationships in the life of a talented as well as troubled author. Her moodiness is often painfully tangible. At times she acts with childlike vulnerability, at other times like a soul too old for her own good.
Ultimately, if the film were excessively 'comfortable,' it would probably be dishonest or Hollywoodesque. On the other hand, perhaps her life was far more fun than we give it credit for. Hopefully I'll return to improve this review later, but that's all I've got for now.
Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) was an American poet who found her soul mate in British poet Ted Hughes, played here by Daniel Craig. Sylvia was obsessed with her poetry, and was a little resentful when her husband's star eclipsed hers. Their passionate marriage deteriorates when Hughes cheats on Sylvia and she discovers it, moving with her two children to London. Worn down by depression, Sylvia Plath killed herself in 1963, at the age of thirty, but not before writing the brilliant "Ariel" poems, which secured her place in the canon of American poets.
Gwyneth Paltrow's performance as Sylvia Plath is the reason to see this movie. She is especially effective in the second part of the film, when Sylvia separates from Ted Hughes and plunges into a deep depression. In these scenes Paltrow looks and acts so much like the real Plath that you get goose bumps. The resemblence is eerie. Paltrow creates a woman desperate for love and recognition, but who dealt with intense suicidal urges all her life. Many people have decided to cast Sylvia Plath as a saint, with Hughes as the devil who drove her to suicide. Paltrow makes it clear that Sylvia's death wish was there from the beginning, and dares to make Plath unlikeable at times. You can understand why Ted Hughes left her, but also sympathize with her as she falls apart. The scene where Sylvia burns the letters that Ted's mistress wrote him makes your heart break. Gwyneth Paltrow gives a very strong, brave performance. It's a tragedy that nearly everything surrounding it is inferior.
The supporting cast, with the exception of Michael Gambon and Blythe Danner, is forgettable. Daniel Craig is hopeless as Ted Hughes, he is simply not a very good actor. The first choices for the part of Ted were Russell Crowe and Colin Firth, who both refused, no doubt because the script for "Sylvia" is weak. It fails to give you a sense of who Plath was as a writer, and is full of holes. In one scene, Sylvia says that she can't write anymore. In the very next, she is celebrating the publication of "The Colossus," her first book. The cinematography for this movie is breathtakingly beautiful, one of the best of the year.
The one thing that I cannot forgive this movie for is its ending. It perpetuates the myth that Sylvia Plath is a martyr to suicide, that it is somehow noble that she abandones her two young children and her career. In the film, as Sylvia looks into the oven, a heavenly golden light shines upon her. There is no excuse for this ending. Sylvia Plath's suicide was a tragic loss to her family and to literature, not a noble act.
See this movie for the cinematography and for Gwyneth Paltrow's great performance. One day there will be a great movie made about the life of Sylvia Plath. This one manages to be little more than the CliffsNotes version.
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Gwyneth Paltrow was magnificent, neurotic, brittle, and brilliant, and though her character was full, it wasn’t a complete film, because she was...Read more