October 24, 2008

Review- Changeling

Here's the problem with Changeling the new Clint Eastwood film starring Angelina Jolie, actually it's one of the problems, but it's the biggest, the brightest and the reddest -- Angelina Jolie's lips. Every single person I've talked to who has seen the film -- especially the women -- the first thing out of their mouth is what a distraction her lips are. One actually said, "am I making too much of this" which I have been thinking to myself over the last couple of days. As a feminist, I really try to see beyond the looks and lips but this film made it virtually impossible because they were so big onscreen and were a total distraction. I think this has become a real problem for Angelina Jolie the actress because she seem to be getting in the way of herself.

The lips are a reflection of the tone of the film which is a male interpretation of a woman, and Jolie is the perfect person to embody that reflection. She's gorgeous and sexy, yet is always seen through the reflection of her family. This could have been a feminist story -- a woman fights back after being thrown in the nut house because she refuses to tow the party line -- but sadly the whole movie rings hollow.

Jolie plays a single mom whose son gets kidnapped. (The film is based on a true story.) When the police find a child that is clearly not her son, but kind of looks like him they convince her to take him home. She of course knows that he is not her son but the cops need a win and they do everything they can to convince her that the boy is hers even though he's shorter and his teeth don't match. But nobody listens to her and they conspire to make her come off crazy. She fights back and goes to the press and the price she pays for speaking out is being locked in the psych ward where she discovers a whole band of women just like her being held for no reason other than speaking out against the police. One of her fellow patients is the always fantastic Amy Ryan is a weird perm.

She is able to get released by the anti-police corruption crusader Gustav Briegleb played by John Malkovich and then takes on the system and fights to get the other women released. I guess that fight would be too much of a leap which brings me to the second big problem with the film -- you never get the sense of why she becomes an advocate. You understand intellectually why she does it, but it never comes through onscreen. One minute she's in the mental ward and the next minute she's standing outside as the women are released. You don't see any character development. It just doesn't work.

There was also no energy in Jolie's performance -- she yelled once and cried non-stop but it felt that she was literally wearing a straght jacket the whole time. I thought that we would get to see the Angelina of Girl Interrupted a decade ago when she got committed but that actress doesn't seem to exist anymore as far as I can see. I don't know if celebrity and the exposure has restricted her onscreen but it kind of feels like it has. Her partner, Brad Pitt seems to be able to still disappear into his roles but maybe its different for women, especially those with big lips.