I got a mild kick out of this Wall Street Journal article talking about how some movies you just can’t foist your criticism upon because audiences confuse the characters in the film for the film itself. It’s easy to do, to get wrapped up in the story of it. It’s much harder to look beyond sentiment (this reporter, by the way, prefers True Grit and The Fighter, lest you think this is another pro-Social Network piece):
Every once in a while a film comes along that the public is officially forbidden to dislike. People don’t necessarily have to see the film in question‚Äîfilms that critics rave about rarely draw huge crowds‚Äîbut they can’t say anything bad about it. To dislike “La Vita √® Bella” or “Slumdog Millionaire” would be to identify oneself as a putrescent misanthrope, to announce to the world: “I am a vile, loathsome, debased cur, a miserable outcast at life’s rich feast. Please hang me at your earliest convenience.”
The latest film to fit into this critically unassailable category is “The King’s Speech,” the Academy Award front-runner (with a dozen nominations in all). And I am the loathsome cur who is not all that crazy about it.
“The King’s Speech” is a heartwarming, “Masterpiece Theatre”-type affair about King George VI, who conquered a serious speech impediment and, with the able assistance of a saucy Aussie therapist, taught himself to address his countrymen in public during their finest hour. This is a very nice story, and even though the film fudges the facts‚ÄîEdward VIII and his Nazi-loving wife get off pretty easily‚Äîit definitely achieves what it sets out to accomplish. The performances are very good, the dialogue is crackling (except when the king stutters) and the lighting could not be better. Moreover, the way Helena Bonham Carter jauntily cocks her stylish chapeaux is enough to convince you that the Queen Mother herself has generously returned from the dead to do a nice little cameo.
That said, “The King’s Speech” is basically a film about what positively smashing folks the royals are. It’s a film that’s infatuated by those awfully swell people up at Balmoral who wear kilts and shoot foxes. Americans used to turn up their noses at this sort of stuff. But that was before “Upstairs, Downstairs” and Merchant & Ivory intoxicated the entire republic with the rustle of crinoline and the shimmer of lace. “The King’s Speech” is not, after all, a film about a Welsh coal miner who overcomes a speech impediment. It is not a film about an Aussie doughboy trapped on the beach at Gallipoli who overcomes a speech impediment. It is a film about spiffing chaps and the spiffing folks who help them to be even more spiffing.
I am not saying that I dislike “The King’s Speech”; my English in-laws would have my guts for garters if I went down that path. I am only saying that as an American, and as a child of the working class, I much prefer “The Fighter” and “True Grit.” (I also prefer director Tom Hooper’s previous film, “The Damned United,” which is about a cocky, talented prole who get royally screwed by dimwit fat cats.)
Why does he love those movies? Because they made him cry, funnily enough, which is why most people like the King’s Speech.
The only films that made me cry:
Waste Land (the doc)
Wish 143 (live action short)
The Tillman Story
Toy Story 3 (okay, okay, gotta admit it)