One of the best courses I took in college was titled Hitchcock Reexamined, in which we watched all of Hitch’s films and discussed them ad nauseam. In addition, we detailed the man behind the infamy – his passions, obsessions, fears, desires – and so on. The course was as interested in the man as it was in his films, which made for some fantastic old time Hollywood musings. But the flip side is that, learning what I learned, it makes films as unaccomplished as The Girl and Hitchcock simply unforgivable.
It is very important to begin these reviews by stating outright that the words Based on a True Story are to be taken as loosely as possible in most any film depicting a real person. Liberties are taken, time is altered, moods are exaggerated – I get it, it’s part of the game. Thing is, if you’re going to change/add/remove from the way it was, then please, for the love of God, make it interesting.
And that is precisely what these films fail to do.
Hot off the surprising success of Psycho, Hitch (Toby Jones) was looking to make his biggest, boldest, scariest film yet. He focused on The Birds, and, with the encouragement of his confidant and wife, Alma (Imelda Staunton), he set his sights on Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) to star. The Girl depicts Hitch and Hedren’s tumultuous relationship from pre-production of The Birds through post-production on the little seen (but no less controversial) thriller, Marnie.
As was often the case of the director and his leading lady, Hitch immediately took a liking to Hedren. He subtly threw himself at her repeatedly, and when his advances resulted in her calling him a “fat pig” on set, Hitch consequently referred to her as “that girl” and turned his motivations from innocent tempter to cruel manipulator. In perhaps the most famous story between the two, Hitch made Hedren do several dozen takes of the scene in which her character enters an attic and is attacked by birds. During the scene, Hitch used mechanical and real birds to draw out authenticity, and nearly drove Hedren to a mental breakdown.
Now, these are all fascinating anecdotes that The Girl depicts… with about as much flare and verve as photographing a small block of wood. Instead of playing Hitch as a coy flirt, Toby Jones is forced to recreate him as a sexual deviant who, in one scene of utter lunacy, orders Hedren to be “sexually available to me at all times.” Did that happen in real life? Hell, I don’t know. But if it did, I sure hope it wasn’t executed as dully as it is here.
And don’t get me wrong, I admire the talent involved. Jones is a fine character actor, and for reasons entitled Interview and Factory Girl, I have always championed for Sienna Miller’s acting abilities. Both are…okay here, but they are given nothing to work with. (Okay, that's not entirely fair. Miller is rather good throughout.) Perhaps the film’s greatest criminal act is the astonishing underuse of Staunton, a flawless actress whose Alma is nothing more than a laughable caricature.
For fans of Hitchcock, old Hollywood, and/or making-of movies, there’s simply nothing driving me to recommend The Girl. This movie had a larger than life character to work with, and its attempt to give him a pulse remains futile at best. D
Hitchcock – Review
Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock begins as Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) is reveling in the monumental and immediate success of North by Northwest. But for his next feature, he wants to shock, appall, and, most importantly, feed himself with the danger of doing something new.
Soon, despite the constant nagging of his steadfast wife, Alma (Helen Mirren) to reconsider, Hitch has his sights set on adapting Robert Bloch’s Psycho. He goes through the motions of casting the premiere blonde bombshell, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), the delicate lead, Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy), and because he’s contractually obligated, he throws his arch nemesis, Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) into the mix for good measure.
So, a movie about the making of one of the best films ever made. What’s not to like? Well, plenty.
Shortly after Hitchcock begins, we watch as famed serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) kills his brother by hitting him in the head with a shovel. Immediately after this, the camera pans over to reveal Hopkins’ Hitch talking into the camera about the crime that was just committed. His words are playful, sardonic and completely unnecessary. So that's the kind of film Hitchcock is.
Throughout the picture, Gein shows up in Hitch’s thoughts, dreams, and hell, even as a real life hallucination. Did Alfred Hitchcock suffer from a personality disorder in which he had conversations with serial killers? I don’t think so. Is it a cheap narrative ploy used solely as a default for lazy screenwriting? In my opinion, yes.
The Gein pop-ups aren’t even the half of it. The majority of the film chronicles how difficult Alma had it with old Hitch. He was continually overbearing, relentless and rude, not to mention a grade-A narcissist. As a means of revenge, Alma buys fancy bathing suits, swims in her pool, and collaborates with a suave screenwriter (Danny Huston) in the writer’s cozy beach home.
Huh? What does that have to do with anything? When the film is at its best, it pits Hopkins and Mirren against each other, one-on-one, so why not more of this? Give them ample room to shine and they’ll kill it. Sadly, this film does very little of that.
(I mean, seriously… why no talk of Hitch’s physical impotence, or the relationship he and Alma had with their daughter, Patricia? Very odd.)
I glossed over the supporting cast earlier, and that is intentional, because it is exactly what this film does. Johansson, Beil, and particularly D’Arcy (who is a dead ringer for Perkins) are all given nothing to do. They stand off to the side, in the frame of Hitch’s film, idly releasing a stale line here and there. Much like the engaging, heated arguments between Hopkins and Mirren, I longed for more worthy screen time from the cast.
My bashing could go on, but I hope by now you get the point. (Okay one more: Pay attention during the scene in which we watch a live audience watch Psycho. Listen to the delivery of the actors on the screen. It’s the scene when Lila Crane and Sam Loomis visit Sheriff Al Chambers. I’m hard pressed to think of any line deliveries that are as poorly executed as those.) And I suppose that is exactly what Hitchcock is, a laughable version of events that are anything but, and could’ve been remembered as so much more. D