by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
April 2, 2003
SEATTLE, Wash. -- In case the news has depressed you lately, I have a remedy: go to what Walter Winchell used to call the moompitcher show.
I can recommend a really first-rate feel-good movie. It is called "The Hours," though as you struggle afterwards through the lobby toward the daylight that you never expected to see again it might strike you that "The Years" would be a better title.
Better if only for the reason that it is also the name of a novel by Virginia Woolf. But the novel that underlies the film is Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway."
By now everyone knows that the actress who plays Virginia Woolf, Nicole Kidman, got the Oscar this year as Best Actress.
Pity there is no Oscar for plastic surgeons. Kidman's nose job makes that of Michael Jackson look like what it is, the work of picky-picky perfectionists who can never stop tweaking their work.
But the nose was actually a small part of it (however prominent a part, I mean right there on the front of her face all the time). Most of it was sheer expert acting.
Kidman is a vibrant, blond young woman who managed to convey the impression of a ethereally thin, dangerously cerebral, increasingly crazy, and, finally, successfully suicidal English writer of genius, who would have slashed all the adverbs in this sentence.
There is a good deal of suicide in this film. Virginia leaves a note to her husband explaining that she is going crazy again, doesn't want to be a bother and all, and so is going to kill herself. She then walks to a quiet stream, puts a rock in the pocket of her coat, and strolls in.
Here was acting of the first magnitude. Everything in Kidman's exuberant young Australian body must have been crying out to plunge with a hoot into the stream and splash the camera crew.
But no. She entered the water much as Virginia Woolf might have entered the Reading Room of the British Museum - calmly, sedately, and with a faint air of disgust at what that nose told her was the scent of unwashed and undeodorized scholarly armpits.
The other spectacular suicide is that of Richard Brown, the character played by Ed Harris, who is supposed to be a phenomenally gifted writer, one who has just won the equivalent of an Oscar for poetry. (In the novel "Mrs. Dalloway" the man who commits suicide is named Smith. Septimus Smith.
Smith.becomes.Brown. Get it? I don't.)
There is nothing at all in the behavior of Richard Brown to suggest that he can even read, let alone write. Harris plays him as if he were the illegitimate son of Hannibal Lechter and Morticia. When he finally rolled out of the window to his death on the pavement below, a woman in the seat behind me whispered, "Oh, thank God. I thought he'd never jump!"
There is one actor in "The Hours" who truly does inspire good feelings.
This is the amazingly touching little boy, played by Jack Rovello, who grew up to become Ed Harris's suicidal poet. If only his mother, played by Julianne Moore, had carried out her plan to kill herself, much of the misery in the film might have been averted. A suicide in time saves nine.
But she merely abandons her family and runs off to Canada to become a librarian. Which, come to think of it, is a sort of ... but I digress. Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.