On the Nov. 16, 2013 episode of Saturday Night Live, Jebidiah Atkinson—a speech critic played by cast member Taran Killam—appeared on “Weekend Update” and blasted every revered speech in history. When Atkinson arrived at President Franklin D Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor, he said, “You know what date will live in infamy for me? December EIGHTH, 1941, when FDR gave a speech that was SO BORING ASS!”
I’d like to apply that sentiment to The Invisible Woman, just without the historical import: The Invisible Woman is a movie that is so boring ass. Yes, I and Killam understand that there’s a dialogue flub there, but that’s not the point. The point is that there are more fun things to do than watch Ralph Fiennes’ latest directing attempt.
Suggestions via “Ren & Stimpy”: Martinize your shorts. Spackle the den. Play with your pet crocostimpy (a cross between the cartoon cat and a crocodile).
Just to be clear: The Invisible Woman is colossally dull and I’m falling back on the pop culture crutch to spur my interest in writing about it. And for those of you who think I’m the type of critic who needs explosions to find a movie interesting—not true: Lone Survivor has approximately 8 million explosions and still is a P.O.S.—let me fill you in on a should-be-a-plot-point-but-it-ain’t moment in The Invisible Woman: There’s a train wreck and it’s as boring as whale shit.
How can a movie with fine performances and attractive Victorian production design be so snooze-worthy? How about adding a couple of characters worth the audience investment?
Let’s take Nelly (Felicity Jones). She’s a schoolteacher and she’s unhappy. Why is she unhappy? Because she had, years before, a lengthy affair with Charles Dickens (Fiennes, natch) and it didn’t go the way she wanted. See, Dickens is something of a jerk in the guise of someone who is not a jerk.
He’s fun and boisterous, but he’s unhappy with his wife and so he sets his sights on Nelly, a would-be actor (with little apparent talent) from a family of actors who are much more talented. And because she has no acting talent and because she loves Dickens’ work and because he wants to have sex with her, her family more or less sells her into an affair with the author.
There’s the beginning of a tale here that—I’m guessing, because I haven’t read the source book—tugs at the heartstrings, and that’s the story of the rotten choices available to women in Victorian England. But instead of, perhaps, a contemporary view of 19th century social graces or an indictment of cultural mores, we get lots of grimacing and heavy breathing and dead babies. Such is life.
Nelly is a passive character; things happen to her. What’s so disagreeable about her passivity is not that it represents her role in English society, but the limitations of the screenplay. It’s as if screenwriter Abi Morgan said, “Clearly the fact that these circumstances are present will clue the audience in that Nelly is being served a shit sandwich in a world dominated by foppish men with their thumbs up their asses and she’s therefore worthy of our sympathy,” and left it that. She forgot an antidote to Nelly’s basic unlikableness; she’s a cold 18-year-old and becomes a cold adult.
A bigger problem is Dickens’ character. Just because he’s Charles Dickens doesn’t make him someone we want to spend two hours with. Dickens’ truly fascinating personal background—rotten childhood while his father was in debtors’ prison; life as a reporter—doesn’t get much play here. By the time he appears in The Invisible Woman, he’s a popular and literary success and something of a rake. The audience will have to supply its own goodwill regarding his character; the movie doesn’t bother.
Maybe that’s the point; this is a movie for Dickens fans (or Victorian fans) who will likely enjoy it. For others, enjoy a tall, cold glass of anything else.
THE INVISBLE WOMAN
Directed by Ralph Fiennes
With Fiennes, Felicity Jones and Kristin Scott Thomas
UA DeVargas 6