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IN SHORT: Too small to care. [Rated [PG-13], 105 minutes]
My Life So Far is the kind of slice of life old school stories that print critics wax poetic over. I could see calling it a well-acted, intimate portrait of a puritan Scots family confronted by the deadly sins of lust and greed, while dealing with a young boy's awakening sexual curiosity. That's fair, but it doesn't relay the fact that this flick is a dud.
Cranky has thought long and hard about why this beautifully photographed film falls short of expectations -- director Hugh Hudson and producer David Puttnam last worked together on Chariots of Fire; Puttnam is responsible for the most excellent and highly recommended Local Hero. My conclusions after the synopsis.
Set in Argyll, Scotland in 1927 My Life So Far is narrated by 10 year old Fraser Pettigrew (Robbie Norman), a red haired, blue eyed cutey. His father Edward (Colin Firth) is a bit of an eccentric inventor, whose obsession with creating products out of moss brings him into conflict with brother-in-law Morris (Malcolm McDowell). Morris, a self-made millionaire, wants control of the family's estate, called Kilronan, currently lorded over by his mom "Gamma MacIntosh" (Rosemary Harris). Not only is Morris rich, this sixty-ish gent is sporting a brand-new 24-year old French wife named Heloise (Irene Jacob) whose affection for young Fraser makes daddy Edward jealous. Wife Moira (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) keeps a stiff upper lip when she uncovers evidence of Edward's infidelity.
Fraser narrates the story and, from time to time, inflicts bits of wisdom gleaned from his deceased Grandfather's "Encyclopedia of Ethics" into the family conversations. Problem is, the "encyclopedia" documents various sexual peccadilloes and practices that the ten year old is way to young to understand -- he suggests, for example, that his mother and new aunt engage in the practice of prostitution to raise money to aid the poor.
Yes, it's funny. Kidlets talking dirty always is, especially with the upper class language that is the territory of this tale. But having a ten year old, who has no conception of the sexual conflicts raging among the adults around him, narrate the tale does nothing but hinder the greater story. While Edward explains to Fraser that Beethoven is the music that God dreams while Jazz is music that the Devil creates, the boy is too young to understand the sexual subtext that jazz brought to the 1920s. And this flick is packed with sexual symbolism. Hudson does a visual dance around the question of whether Edward raped Heloise, or if their one and only dalliance was consensual. (It's hard applying 1990s standards to a 1920s setting. What may have been considered sexual pressure as little as twenty years ago is considered "rape" today.) It matters not to Moira, whose emotions are bottled up until the very end of the flick.
Sorry, Cranky's writing like a film student. It happens from time to time. But there's only a paragraph or so to go, so hang in there.
The print critics may rave about fine acting performances, and there are two to be mentioned here: Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who has little to say, and must bear her emotional consternation silently; Malcolm McDowell, as the loud (sic) I-know-better-than-you uncle whose character is a flame burning in an emotionally dense fog. As good as this pair are, it's not enough to recommend My Life So Far.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to My Life So Far, he would have paid...
A dud's a dud, regardless of the big name's attached.
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