Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Stories Based on Truth

Eileen's post yesterday got me thinking about a few "based on a true story" movies I've seen recently.

In the last couple of weeks, I have seen Lincoln, The Impossible and Hyde Park on Hudson, all based on true stories. And I'm dying to see Zero Dark Thirty, regardless of the waterboarding. (Even if it worked, and I'm not saying that I necessarily believe that it did. That doesn't make it right in my eyes... But that's not what this post is about.)

Lincoln was great. Daniel Day Lewis. Wow. I've never met Lincoln (I know, weird, right?) but I truly believed that Day Lewis was him. Who knows if the accent was right, but it was consistent and constant and not affected or false, and it made me see Lincoln and not DDL or any other character he's played. Who knows if Lincoln loved and doted on his youngest son that much, but the father son bond and the absolute love he had for his son was palpable and believable... Who knows exactly what he said to his wife when they were alone, but I found their relationship touching too. And the one with his older son...  (And not to go all Anne Hathaway, but you've got to admire Sally Field for fighting so hard to get this part, even though she's much older than DDL and movies always tend to cast younger women with older men, not the other way around... Sally Field continues to fight and break barriers in Hollywood.)

A very interesting film. And I'd like to think that all the details about the politics and the compromises and who Tommy Lee Jones was sleeping with were accurate. But I don't know. And I'm not compelled to start researching to find out. I believed this movie. And learned a lot.

Then The Impossible. Wow. This is a really great film, if hard to watch in places. Naomi Watts does pain really well. And she suffers through a lot of pain... But this movie was a really amazing way to humanize and personalize what was the greatest natural disaster of our times. We all saw the photos of what happened in Thailand, but it was so far away and this film made it all so real and close to home...

In a few places near the end, I almost let my inner skeptic come out. I started thinking, how could they possibly know that this happened? How could they know he walked past there right then? But then at the climax of the story a few minutes later, I realized it just didn't matter how accurate some of these tiny details were. They were dramatic and heart breaking and created so much emotion and suspense and tension in a story that otherwise might lack tension... The audience goes into the movie knowing (or at least being 99% sure) about how it's going to end. But like Apollo 13 and other movies where you know the ending before it starts, the filmmakers and screenwriters used these details to create a lot of suspense.

But is it based on facts?  Well, they show a photo of the real family at the end. Who are Spanish. I think? Definitely not British. But I forgive the filmmakers because, um, Ewan McGreggor. I forgive any change to the facts that lets him be cast in a film. And really, this family is standing in for every family, every tourist who was in Thailand when the tsunami struck.

Hyde Park on Hudson. I also enjoyed this movie, but not quite so much as the others. I'd heard very mixed things about it and, well, it is a tad dull. Maybe because it came out so soon after The King's Speech, and because of Bill Murray and the trailers... we expect the movie to be mostly about Roosevelt and the King. And mostly a political film about how the US initially avoided, then eventually joined WWII.

But it's not really about that or about them. It's about Daisy, played by Laura Linney. And she's portrayed as a fairly dull and naive spinster. And I think because her character is dull, the film is dull. The hardest thing to believe for me was why FDR was attracted to her. I suspect that for him, it was less about her or sexual attraction, and more about his assuming she'd keep quiet, because she was his cousin and wouldn't hurt him or reveal any of his secrets, even if it all went bad...

There are a few scenes in the film which aren't in Daisy's POV. But the overall story is hers. In a nutshell, it's a coming of age story, but about a 30-something woman. (And not a docu-drama about the King's pre WWII visit to the USA, as the trailers would have you believe.)
And I call it a coming of age story, because Daisy has a very "teenager" character arc. (Powerful older man (quarterback) pays you some attention. But he has a wife (girlfriend). But he has what seems to be an open and not sexual relationship with his wife (we're just together because she's head cheerleader and it would look bad if we broke up) and you're so flattered and having sex for the first time in your life and he makes you feel important when you never thought you'd ever be important. You express your opinions. You meet interesting people. The King and Queen of England! (the football team and cheerleaders). Then you find out he's cheating on you as well as with you. You find out you're not so special. And... more would be spoilerish. Suffice it to say that the ending was kind of deflating and where it breaks off from where you'd expect a coming of age story might go. I guess I could/should admire them for not making it a more hollywood ending...

If it were a high school YA, coming of age, she would have realized her own self-worth, moved away and had a life. But it was another time.

No one knew Daisy's story or had proof of her relationship with FDR until she died in her late nineties and her journals and letters were discovered under her bed.

Hmm.. On second thought, maybe that is a bit of a high school ending.

So, is it factual? At best, the only truth it can possibly show is the "truth" that Daisy wrote in her letters and her impressions of events would be biased. But it was interesting and the performances were good. I especially enjoyed Bill Murray and Olivia Wilde as Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. I also liked the portrayal of King George VI, even though he was different than Colin Firth's version. I did, however, not like the Queen Elizabeth shown in this film. Who knows what she was really like, but I grew up loving the Queen Mother and much prefer the supportive and funny version of her that Helena Bonham Carter played in The King's Speech to the uptight and shrill version in this film.

Has anyone else seen any of these?


Eileen said...

I haven't seen any of the others yet. I think I could forgive the inaccuracies in the tsunami movie because, as you said, the family is representing all the families hurt in that disaster. The problem for me with something like Lincoln, though, is that the movie is saying "this is what happened," not "this is what being president is like." I haven't checked on its accuracies and inaccuracies, but I'd be disappointed if they took the kind of liberties that Hysteria took.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen any either, but Lincoln and The Impossible were both high on my list..

And DDL in Lincoln, as always, he's supposed to be incredible..

I'm OK with liberties as long as they work, but when they stand out as being wrong, they bug me. But I haven't seen Hysteria yet either..

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