Jane Eyre

20 Apr

Title: Jane Eyre
Cary Fukunaga
Writer: Moira Buffini, based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë
Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins, Imogen Poots
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content
120 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

I had the pleasure of watching Jane Eyre at the Gene Siskel Film Center when I was in Chicago in the beginning of March. There was a 7:30 Sunday showing which included a Q&A with director Cary Fukunaga and star Mia Wasikowska afterwards. As a fan of the novel on which the film is based, as well as the prior film of Mr. Fukunaga and pretty much everything Ms. Wasikowska has done up to this point in her career, it’s pretty safe to say I was quite psyched about seeing them live.

I waited over a month to write up this review for a reason, which was basically for it to simmer nicely. I mean, having a Q&A after a film is not what usually happens, and it can lead you into loving the film much more because you love what the filmmakers had to say about it, especially when the two people talking are as charming as Ms. Wasikowska and Mr. Fukunaga were. So yeah, I guess I wanted to watch the film again, without the Q&A, and give my review then.

Well, I finally got to watch it again (and then again a third time), and my opinion hasn’t changed, this is the best film of 2011 so far. I mean, for a film to tackle a material that has been adapted so many times (there have been nearly 30 feature and television adaptations of the masterpiece) and to make it feel so fresh and inspired is an extremely rare feat to accomplish, and yet here it happens with such apparent ease it’s hard not to watch this film and marvel at its many great qualities.

Mr. Fukunaga made his directorial debut a couple years ago with the Sundance hit that was Sin Nombre, that was a very daring film made in Spanish and that dealt with immigration and Mexican gangs, and it was a seriously outstanding film that showed that this was a insightful director who had a very unique vision and way of telling stories. The change of scenery, on paper at least, couldn’t be more drastic for Mr. Fukunaga. Going from telling stories about Mexican immigrants and their gangs, and doing it in Spanish, to telling the story of a character that was created a century and a half ago, and that takes place in huge English manors.

The director, however, is just as adept at handling this film, and considering the themes his debut film dealt with, and the nature of his sophomore effort, I wasn’t expecting him to be such a young guy. Mr. Fukunaga is 33, and you can tell just by the way he talks that the guy would definitely be pretty awesome to hang out with, just as you can tell that he has a huge love for his art. And the way in which he approaches, you just can’t help but think this is a guy wise beyond his years.

And wise beyond her years is also a term that wholeheartedly applies Ms. Wasikowska as well, looking gorgeous in her short chic blonde hair some ten feet away from me in the Q&A, her warm smile and face, as well as her charming Australian accent, do make her feel like she’s 21. But then you hear her talk, and you see how insightful her performances, are and you know she’s an old soul with a helluva lot of depth in her.

I’ve known about Ms. Wasikowska and how insanely talented she is since 2008, when she played Sophie on that first season of HBO’s In Treatment. Not only was Sophie my favorite patient of that season (Laura would be a kind-of-close second place if y’all are wondering), but it was so easy to see how amazing Ms. Wasikowska is, just how she went toe-to-toe with the great Gabriel Byrne in some incredibly intense scenes, it was a no-brainer that she was destined for success.

And we all know what happened next. In 2009 she started setting down her stepping stones in film, with a small role in Amelia (which wasn’t a great film) and a terrific supporting turn in That Evening Sun (which was) that got her for an Independent Spirit Award nomination. But 2010 would be the year that she became famous worldwide, and I’m so happy that was the case. And that’s because she scored both a hugely commercially successful film with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, in which she played the titular role, as well as a critical hit, with the indie darling The Kids Are All Right, which was my fifth favorite film of all last year and that saw her acting along such amazing actors as Annette Beining, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that the director and the star of this incarnation of Jane Eyre are two young people who are doing everything right, and who are ridiculously talented. And that’s all evident in the film, which is shot gorgeously by Adriano Goldman, and that shows a different take on Jane Eyre, one that plays off its gothic elements, and that results in a more elegant and immediate film, with Ms. Wasikowska giving the best portrayal of the famed character there has ever been.

I feel like I’ve gone on for way too long about the merits of this film and its makers have. Maybe it’s because I just genuinely loved the Q&A afterwards and I’m biased to shower them with praise, that certainly is a factor, but just go ahead and watch this film and compare it to the ones that you were shown when you read the classic novel in school, this one is the best there is. And it’s the best there is because of a director that was willing to let his film show a different tone of the story by choosing to play off the darker parts of it, and because Mr. Fukunaga just lets his actors do their thing naturally.

Because, trust me, as brilliant as Ms. Wasikowska is, she’s not the only actor who brought her A-game to this. Michael Fassbender is here playing Mr. Rochester, and I’ve already talked in past reviews about how great I think this guy is, he’s definitely an actor that we’ll keep on seeing in things for years to come. Not to mention that Jamie Bell, Judi Dench and Sally Hawkins all appear in smaller roles they make the most of, especially Dame Dench who I thought was magnificent in how much she conveyed just with the tone of her voice and demeanor. This as a whole is just superbly acted.

This is the Jane Eyre for the new generation, one that effectively manages to balance the elements of a period romance, to the point in which there are a couple of scenes that may just make you teary, with all its gothic sensibilities. And it is, for my money, the best Jane Eyre there has been to date, and I haven’t talked about the plot at all because Jane Eyre is always about the adventure of finding it out as you go, even when you re-read the novel, you always start finding new stuff to love, and I felt much like that when I watched. Just rest assured the the repressed emotions and sense of isolation are intact here, and that, because of how great Mr. Fukunaga is at storytelling and at creating striking images, you’ll fall in love with the film.

Grade: A


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