Oakes Fegley (Boardwalk Empire) and Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver) are Theo Decker, a young man caught up in a museum bombing who, for some reason, steals a Fabritius painting called "The Goldfinch" during the aftermath in the aptly-titled The Goldfinch, an adaptation of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
The bombing kills Theo's mom, so he's sent to live with the Barbour family, a rich amalgamation of John Irving-esque characters led by Nicole Kidman and stocked with all kinds of high class problems bubbling up from behind the shadows. Of course, we never see those in detail so much as we observe Theo swallowing hard and waking from nightmares about the bombing and feeling sad, but the problems are there—just ask the elder brother who shows up for two seconds to slam a table and storm off because he was expelled from school for reasons we don't hear about. Anyway, we aren't really sure why Theo winds up with them; the film even has Kidman say something like "Sure, he knows my kid, but I wouldn't say they're friends."
The rest is told through a combination of flashbacks and present day goings-on, which proves tedious at almost every turn, even as Theo babysits "The Goldfinch," too terrified to alert the authorities and … too … something to let anyone else know. We watch as Theo gets super involved in the world of antiquing, where he meets Hobie (Westworld's Jeffrey Wright), who becomes a sort of father figure, though, again, we're told that more than we're shown that. And then there's Pippa (Aimee Laurence/Ashleigh Cummings), another survivor of the bombing and the niece of Hobie's partner who did die in the bombing. Pippa used to love playing music, but the accident ended all that somehow, though that's not explained either, save a scene that showcases a big fat head scar, so sure, yeah, head injury. Oh, woah, wait a minute … everything is connected! Naw, jay-kay, it's all coincidental.
Because this thing is a mess, from the convoluted timelines to the needlessly long scenes that are, I don't know, meant to show that Theo is a sensitive little dude. Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things does manage to cobble together a halfway decent turn as a Russian buddy of Theo's that makes us forget he's been relegated to 1980s-ish stuff for his entire career, but the adult version of his character, like all the adult versions of all the characters, looks and acts so differently that it really kills the immersion. Don't even get me started on the utterly pointless series of events that lead to Theo's engagement to one of the Harbour daughters. Best as I can tell, it's meant to display how he seizes control of his life, but it's fast and furious and really just quite weird.
Elsewhere, a cartoonishly shitty version of Theo's father comes in the form of Luke Wilson making angry eyes and drinking too much, and American Horror Story mainstay Sarah Paulson as the dad's girlfriend pops in to do some of that overacting she likes so much. All the while, Theo looks sick and engages in narration about how we disguise ourselves even to ourselves, which maybe was deep in book form (or at least explained properly), but here feels like some kind of Cloud Atlas-level nonsense. Is it open to interpretation? Weak.
The ultimate payoff thus feels tempered by the events which lead to it, and though (no spoilers) there's much to agree with philosophically speaking, the drawn out and meandering journey to get there is far too boring to allow for a direct hit. Instead, one might consider the moral-lite for a moment then move on forever, minus the "You can skip it," conversations we're all bound to have with our friends over the coming weeks.
+The music's nice; intriguing … at first
-Everyone is pretty bad; so heavy-handed
With Fegley, Elgort, Kidman, Wright, Wilson, Wolfhard and Paulson
Violet Crown, Regal 14, R, 149 min.