Are critics a herd of sheep? I sometimes think so, especially after sitting through ten previews and the two hours and 17 minutes it took to unspool “The Master” yesterday. Granted, Paul Thomas Anderson, the director and writer of this time burner, has made some good films (I really liked “There Will Be Blood” and “Boogie Nights”), but why in the world are film critics tripping all over themselves to bestow such praise on this mess?
Due to incessant drum-beating, I’m sure you’re aware that “The Master” tells the story of Freddie Quell, an alcoholic World War II Navy veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who crosses paths with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), philosopher and proponent of “the Cause,” which he touts as a new direction for living. The time is 1950; the place of their first meeting is San Francisco, and as a result the critics’ tongues are hanging out because they think Anderson is taking on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. If he is, you could have fooled me.
Both the film and its content should have been left in the oven a lot longer. In no particular order: Freddie Quell is an inarticulate drunk whose brain is already fried from the time we see him drinking torpedo juice on V-J day. Neither the writing nor Joaquin Phoenix, who seems to be channeling Montgomery Clift on a really bad day, do anything to make the character sympathetic, so being forced to spend time with him becomes progressively more painful. As far as Lancaster Dodd is concerned, there are more questions than answers. It’s strange to see Dodd accused by a skeptic of fostering a cult, because all he seems to be doing is providing parlor entertainment for a few rich sponsors. His “philosophy” is an amalgam of past lives, hypnosis and whatever else he can pull out of thin air. Why Dodd and his wife (brilliantly played by Amy Adams) are so insistent on keeping Freddie in the fold is a mystery. Is it just a power trip? Is it because he can be a surrogate id for Dodd? We end up not really caring because all we see of Freddie is a dumb animal of a human being with a compulsion to attach himself to others—to Dodd, to the 16 year-old girl he writes to back home during the war. What makes it worse is that Anderson omits any real threat from the film—he doesn’t show us the consequences of expulsion from Dodd’s inner circle and what that might mean to any follower, let alone Freddie.
“The Master” is frustrating because what could have been a great story remains untold. Plus it’s self-indulgently looonnnggg to no purpose whatsoever—there’s a void where a plot should be, there’s zero character development and the lack of insight is astonishing. The 1950’s setting is wasted, the actors behave anachronistically (Dodd’s daughter shouts “Good job!” to Freddie) and the whole thing winds up as one hot mess. Do yourself a favor and give this one a pass.
It’s been an incredibly busy week at Betty’s Brownies. First my post, “‘Boardwalk’ Walking” was Freshly Pressed, which brought a slew of new readers to my site. Many, many thanks to all who have taken the time to read, comment and/or follow my blog. I’m doing my best to check out all of your blogs, too, and slowly but surely I’m making the rounds. All I can say is that you’re extremely talented, and I’m enjoying the wide range of interests that each of you write about.
Yesterday I learned to my surprise and delight that Elizabeth and Liz, who writes one wickedly good “Mad Men” blog, nominated me for the “One Lovely Blog Award.” Now as I understand it, this comes with rules and obligations, which I’m more than happy to comply with (I know, I know—spoken like a true attorney). So here goes:
1. Shout-out to the blogger who nominated your blog.
Mille grazie, Liz!
2. Share 7 things about yo bad self.
1) I cry at movies, TV shows, operas, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”—I well up at the drop of a hat. When I saw “Porgy and Bess” at the Met, I literally had to bite my knuckles at the end to keep from sobbing.
2) My all-time favorite novel is “The Great Gatsby.”
3) My career ambition in high school was to become chief music critic of the New York Times. Where did I go wrong?!?
4) The most beautiful sky I ever experienced was at night at the foot of Mt. Kilamanjaro, when I saw the Southern Cross for the first time in my life.
5) I always dream in color.
6) If I had a time machine, I’d like to spend a day at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
7) I’m a New Jersey chauvinist and proud of it!
3. Nominate 15 of the baddest bloggers in the game for the same lovely award.
This is a bit unfair because I haven’t had a chance yet to visit the blog of everyone who’s spent time reading mine. So far, though, I’m really enjoying:
1) Jump for Joy which is my daily smile.
2) Lonnie Dawkins: Making pictures–People, places things: wonderful work, and those waffles look luscious!
3) Quite Novel: a terrific readers’ blog.
4) Polentical: Progressive politics and regressive entertainment: a light touch is all.
5) Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts: everything and more about that gal from Fall River.
6) Writer Talk: because I frequently write in my jammies, too.
So if nominated, all you need to do to earn your One Lovely Blog Award is:
- Thank the person who nominated you.
- Tell the whole wide world 7 things about yourself.
- Nominate 15 bloggers you feel have one of the best, most wonderful blogs on the entire interwebs.