Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I got this movie from the library on a whim. I don't think it received much praise when it was released, because its ambitions are small, but it struck me as much more interesting than most movies that people gush about. The story is fairly simple: a young woman just out of college, bright but shy and without any particular direction, meets an older man at a wedding (he is the photographer) and is immediately taken with him. He is charming but in a realistic way rarely seen in the movies; he has no repartee at his fingertips. Most of his charm lies simply in the fact that he pays attention to her. As soon becomes apparent, he can sense with whom this brand of charm will be most effective.

The girl is largely out of step with her family, all of whom are lawyers and equally self-possessed and well-spoken. She is goofy and quiet and awkward. Sarah Polley, the actress who plays her, gives a strange but completely believable performance. You scratch your head occasionally at her choices -- like the hysterical giggles she lets loose the first time the photographer attempts to seduce her -- but as the movie goes on all of the elements seem to make sense together; it is an incredibly lifelike performance.

The movie proceeds in what may seem like a predictable pattern for a May-December romance movie, but unlike movies like Something's Gotta Give, whose point is largely to shame the older man for his immorality, and bring him back into the fold only if he has been well-chastised and is ready for a woman his own age, Guinevere realizes that the man does not exist only to be fixed. As the relationship proceeds, we discover along with the girl that the man is petty and childish, a serial seducer of young women, an alcoholic, and a putative Marxist who spouts rhetoric about class while sponging off other people - but also that something real still remains after his flaws have been revealed.

A more predictable movie would simply have denounced this man as a fraud, which he clearly is to some extent, and left it that. The grand conclusion would have been that the woman sees through him and leaves him behind, wiser for the experience. But to its credit, the movie realizes that the situation is not quite so simple. Like a book that seemed great when you were seventeen, the photographer exists to some extent to be gotten past; he helps bring his lovers up to a level where they can see through him. Even while his act is to some degree insincere (his seduction routine, for example, does not change from woman to woman) the awakening he promises them does take place, and the care he lavishes on them is genuine. To be outgrown, after all, can be an honorable thing; in people, for example, it might even be a form of sacrifice.

There are a few flaws: an unnecessary voiceover, for example, and some false notes in various scenes. The movie ends rather badly too. Unlike everything that has gone before, there is a feeling that this is not the way things would actually go. Too much that was already obvious is spelled out, and there is a dream sequence that seems silly instead of a fitting conclusion. But it does not really ruin anything. Guinevere, like few movies that I have seen recently, is worth talking about with people; it resists summing up.

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