Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Temple Grandin

I’ve never reviewed a made for television film before, and for good reason(s).  They don’t have as much at stake as other movies.  Films released theatrically are vying for two things: money and street credit in the form of Oscars.  TV movies aren’t in competition for either, so they carry little-to-no pressure, which explains why so many of them aren’t worth your time.

Here’s a rare exception.  If you watched the Emmy’s in August, then you know the cast and crew of Templin Grandin owned an hour of the telecast when they won their seven trohpies.  (Because of that, critics are actually trying to remove the “Made For Television” categories from the Emmy broadcast).  I have HBO, it was on one night, so I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about.

Temple Grandin tells the true story of a woman diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome who, despite her social awkwardness, put herself through college, got her doctorate and became a renowned expert in the field of animal husbandry.  There’s definitely a movie to be made in the fact that a girl who didn’t speak until she was four years old is currently a professor at Colorado State University.  But why a TV movie?

Honestly, I’m not sure.  Everything in this HBO flick is top notch.  To mention the acting is to grow repetitive, as it is all perfect.  Claire Danes has never impressed me (Brokedown Palace… maybe) but as Grandin, she is an utter revelation.  She embodies Gradin’s voice, facial ticks and imperfections without the slightest bit of force.  Her mother, as played by Julia Ormond, delicately and seamlessly captures the everyday struggles of a parent with an autistic child.  And Grandin’s inspirational teacher (as played by the never-not-perfect David Strathairn) does subtle wonders with his brief role.  It’s no surprise that these three all won Emmy’s.

Then there’s director Mick Jackson and his crew. Jackson, best known for directing The Bodyguard, uses storytelling devices in Temple Grandin that most other films screw up.  Remember the whole, “Oh look, that’s how he sees the world,” moving of numbers and graphics in A Beautiful Mind?  Well, imagine that done right.  When you watch Temple Grandin, and more importantly, Danes’ performance, you know, better than any other film I’ve ever seen, what it is like to have Asperger’s.  When Danes looks at something, the camera suddenly freezes and flashes several black and white still shots, conveying her photographic memory. 

A simple gate leading to a horse farm is a challenge for Grandin, one that we figure out through her eyes.  These devices are, admittedly,  harder to write about than they are to view. 
The real Temple with Danes on set
2010 has been a very rough year for movies.  We’ve had a few standouts (Inception, The Social Network) and hopefully we’ll have a few more (127 Hours, The Fighter) but nothing yet has come remotely close to hitting the emotional peaks of Precious or The Cove last year. 

Many films based on true stories don’t know when, or how, to end.  The final scene of Temple Grandin is so convincingly gut-wrenching and inspiring at the same time, that you can’t help but get choked up.  It’s the most emotional I’ve gotten over a film this year.  Who cares if it’s made for television?

Danes’ performance rivals that of Dustin Hoffman’s in Rain Man and far surpasses Russell Crowe’s in A Beautiful Mind.  Lead actresses should be thanking HBO for picking Temple Grandin up.  If it was released in theatres, Claire Danes would win the Best Actress Oscar without breaking a sweat.  A-


  1. i am glad you wrote a review for this. I saw this the night it premiered and absolutely loved it. i think Claire Daines deserves all the praise for her portrayal

    great film!!

  2. This was a great film, a very accurate portrayal of Asperger's.