Dir: Bart Freundlich | Wir: Susanne Bier/Anders Thomas Jensen | Cast: Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn | US Drama 110′
One of two films out this season starring Julianne Moore. Both are remakes, but this orphanage-themed story is the one to go for.
Danish director Susanne Bier made the original ‘dogma styled’ version and was nominated for an Oscar back in 2006. The US version has two powerful female leads, and Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams make for a terrific duo as a successful business woman and a free-thinking philanthropist, respectively.
Earth mother Isobel (Williams) runs an orphanage in Kolkata, but the magnificent opening sequence has the drones sweeping in over the exotic landscape quickly establishing this as a glossy drama all about fraught relationships, love, and forgiveness rather than a grim slice of social realism. True there are some cheesy elements at the start of the film: we don’t particularly warm to Moore at first, as she sashays round her ample New York residence, nodding to domestic staff while she talks on her ‘phone. But her character soon proves to have a hidden agenda behind its rather glacial facade. She’s a wife, a mother of three and an accomplished entrepreneur married to Billy Crudup’s rather puppyish sculptor, Oscar.
Freundlich has clearly crafted Theresa with Moore in mind. She is businesslike, a loving mother to her kids and affectionate with her husband – a woman who seems to have it all – but we will later discover that she doesn’t. Her daughter (Abby Quinn) is about to get married, but she seems rather unsure of intended. But Theresa gives her plenty of cheesy assurances and she is busy organising her ridiculously lavish wedding and shooting orders at everyone in sight. At first we dislike this rather glib family.
And Isobel (Williams) isn’t much better. Although she clearly loves the beautifully polite kids in her orphanage, and particularly eight-year-old Jai (Vir Pachisia), there’s a steely dissatisfaction behind her doting gestures. And we soon discover why when she turns up in New York to take delivery of the “suitcase full of money” offered to her orphanage by a benefactor who demands a face to face meeting.
This donor turns out to be none other that Theresa. There’s a motif running through the drama that points to her sympathy for felled trees and wounded birds. But she’s also a draconian boss, and there’s a wonderful kick-ass scene involving her assistant, that you’d never get away with in Britain.
The New York scenes are typically over the top with lavish hotel suites, brands everywhere and riches beyond the dreams of avarice in Theresa’s waterfront estate. The first reveal in this strangely absorbing drama occurs when Oscar clocks Isobel at the wedding (she’s been press-ganged into attending by Theresa).
Bizarre the next reveal may be, but it certainly packs a punch. And the characters are sent reeling in disbelief and horror. At this point, Theresa decides to widen the remit of her donation, naturally with poisoned chalice conditions. Isabel may practice yoga and have a habit of kicking her shoes off without a by your leave, but she’s certainly no fool and remains skeptical of her Theresa’s motives. And with good reason. Another dramatic twist leads to the rationale behind Theresa’s erratic behaviour.
These two woman are tough as nails behind their faux sympathy. They display the spiky machiavellian capabilities of the deadlier sex. And it’s a joy to watch them in full flow in this engrossing melodrama that almost puts the BBC’s Dr Foster in the shade. Bier’s original had two male protagonists but these women are much more convincing and never fail to surprise us with their sneakiness. Although a beginner, Quinn is the only one who really displays heartfelt feelings, but the other characters offer plenty to chew on in this meaty melodrama. MT
NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 1 NOVEMBER 2019