Tuesday, October 07, 2014

"Gone Girl" hits nerve, does justice to book


Directed by David Fincher
Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick F
Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn

Like the book, “Gone Girl” is a hard movie to talk about without giving away too much. Suffice it to say that the dark, twisty bestseller about a marriage gone bad and a wife gone missing, possibly murdered, has been deftly adapted for the screen by the novel’s author, Gillian Flynn, and directed with style to burn by David Fincher. It helps, of course, that both Flynn and Fincher have plenty of experience painting the blackest corners of the human soul. The film also benefits from excellent casting not just of the two leads, Nick (Ben Affleck in hunky lunk mode) and Amy (Rosamund Pike, in a career-defining role), the former golden couple who’s fallen on hard times, but the key supporting players who elevate what could be stock roles: the supportive sister (Carrie Coon, in her breakout role), the slick defense lawyer (Tyler Perry, surprisingly good), the world-weary, appealingly down-to-earth cop (Kim Dickens, unsurprisingly good); even Neil Patrick Harris, who initially seems miscast, manages to convey a convincingly creepy vibe as the ex-boyfriend who’s still obsessed with Amy. Other characters, while more thinly drawn, contribute amusing shots at our national fixation with violent crimes involving photogenic white women, aided and abetted by social media and the 24-hour infotainment industry.

But make no mistake, this is first and foremost the Nick and Amy story—a fairy tale turned nightmare long before the day Nick comes home to find Amy has disappeared. Their relationship is the core of “Gone Girl,” which shifts at about the halfway mark from unsettling mystery to lurid, increasingly preposterous thriller, and their relationship is what keeps the material a cut above pure pulp. In this, the film is faithful to its original source, preserving the basic he-said, she-said counterpoint structure of the novel (in part by relying on voice-over narration from Amy—a device I normally dislike but that’s unavoidable in this instance and, to Fincher’s and Flynn’s credit, used as effectively and as sparingly as possible). It should shock no one that neither Nick nor Amy, nor their relationship, turn out to be exactly as first presented; what is shocking is the lopsided imbalance between what they’re each hiding, as well as their respective abilities at hiding it. That imbalance is a fundamental weakness of the narrative that the film can’t quite finesse, and undercuts any meaningful discussion of the potentially fascinating gender and power dynamics underlying Nick and Amy’s battle for the last word. Even so, none of these flaws dilutes the movie’s impact in the moment, no matter how much they may bug the viewer on later reflection. Like the book, “Gone Girl” is the kind of movie that gets under one’s skin.


Also saw:


Directed by Craig Johnson
Starring Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell

More a dramedy than a comedy despite featuring two well-known former SNL stars, “The Skeleton Twins” may be the best American movie to focus on a brother-sister relationship that doesn’t involve Laura Linney (“You Can Count on Me,” “The Savages”). Kristen Wiig steps into the Linney role as the sister who outwardly seems to have it together but really, really doesn’t, while Bill Hader reveals impressive dramatic chops as the screw-up brother who comes back into her life, after a decade of never-fully-explained estrangement, when he botches a suicide attempt. Although it never quite reaches the sublime heights or depths of YCCoM, a film it borrows heavily from, “The Skeleton Twins” offers a surprisingly poignant, emotionally rich, and wryly funny portrait of two deeply damaged but deeply simpatico individuals linked by both blood and shared psychological baggage. It wouldn’t work as well as it does were it not for the terrific chemistry between Wiig and Hader. One can easily believe they were siblings in another life, and it’s a tribute to both the actors and the writing that one quickly ceases to see them as anything else in this one.



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