Shows a young Hemingway as a prissy guy, not the macho man we know
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Directed By: John Irvin
Written By: James Scott Linville from Ernest Hemingway's short novel
Cast: Jack Huston, Mena Suvari, Richard E. Grant, Caterina Murino, Carmen Maura, Matthew Modine
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 11/4/10
Opens: December 10, 2010 (NY and LA)
We in the U.S. know Ernest Hemingway as not only one of our finest writers but a macho guy whom we introduce to high-school kids to show that writers are not all a prissy bunch wed to solitary rooms pecking away at typewriters and computers. Hemingway was not only a womanizer and a fan of bullfighting (the latter to his discredit, however) but an adventurer who joined his father, a big-game hunter in Africa; an ambulance driver during World War I; a reporter during the Spanish Civil War; a heavy drinker; and that's just for starters
Yet watching him during his twenties in this semi-autobiographical dramatization of his first marriage, you've got to wonder. How come he's such a wimp, wrapped around the little finger of a beautiful but neurotic woman, catering to her because she's filthy rich? She plays sexual games, perhaps testing his love for her, or maybe just awash with the boredom of the people in the wealthiest upper one percent of the population only a few years after there was even an income tax at all for her to enjoy cuts by the Bush administration. We're back in the 1920s, before the Great Depression (that's the first one, not the one that started in 2008), the jazz age, when David Bourne (Jack Huston), living as an American expatriate in Paris, meets and marries Catherine Bourne (Mena Suvari) after a whirlwind romance. She buys him a car, and they're off on an extended honeymoon in Europe, covering Cannes, Paris, Madrid and surrounding areas while we in the audience are made privy to areas in Africa that are recalled by David from his childhood experiences with his big-game hunting father (Matthew Modine).
Ashley Rowe, who serves as director John Irvin's photographer, films the action in various locations in Spain to stand in for France and also in Amboseli National Park in Maasi land in Kenya to reflect David's childhood memories. The script by James Scott Linville, adapted from Hemingway's novel "The Garden of Eden," is largely wooden and pretentious, not particularly credible even considering how neurotic Catherine Bourne turns out to be. We can understand the need that Catherine has for diversion since, after all, she has never had to work, has no professional challenges in her life except for the erotic one that forms the spine of this film. The sexual game she plays is to introduce the beautiful Marita (Caterina Murino) into the villa owned by Madame Aurol (Carmen Maura), turning that bi-sexual woman into a ménage-a-trois, though we're not sure whether Catherine is testing her husband's devotion to the marriage or simply enjoying a game without worrying extensively whether the marriage will survive the months of honeymoon.
From the beginning of the film, the authentic period feel of the drama is enjoyable. The car, which looks something never before seen (it's nothing like the Model-T Ford), the re-creation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's party scene at least in miniature, is involving. As the erotic play continues, the plot becomes wearisome, David's passivity, particularly when harassed by his wife's insistence that he stop writing and join her in holiday fun. makes one want to shake him up. And you can't be blamed for wanting to throw both Catherine and Marita into the Mediterranean. Then again, maybe that's what the director wants us to feel.
In any case society would be better off if more people were like this early Hemingway dude and everyone sat at the typewriter and refused to attend those god-awful bullfights.
Not Yet Rated. 111 minutes. © 2010 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online