Time Bomb

'The Hours' suffers from a weak story, bad soundtrack and a poor makeup job.

The Hours tells the story of three women who are either reading or writing or living a novel by Virginia Woolf. Yes, it's a film that features scenes of someone reading, a sure sign that we've taken a wrong turn on the road to intelligent cinema and wound up in the quaint province of Middlebrow.

The three stories are largely distinct, except for a truly embarrassing Twilight Zone-type ending that ties two of them together. If you're dying to see Julianne Moore doing an atrocious, 10-minute monologue that recaps exactly what you've just seen, then please stick around for the end of this film.

The Hours is ostensibly a movie about the different ways that lesbians had to cope with themselves at different historical periods. That would have been interesting, but instead we get a film where Virginia Woolf doesn't even seem to know Vita Sackville-West, her real-life girlfriend. It's as though the film wants to claim it was impossible to be happily gay before the 1970s, and so Woolf is transformed from someone who experimented with life and love into someone who was trapped in a conventional marriage. Woolf fans will find this particularly annoying.

Woolf is played by Nicole Kidman, who gives the best performance of her career. It's not exactly a career marked by great performances, mind you. Nor even by good performances. To even call her previous work "bad" would be to lay hyperbolic praise upon it. If there's something worse than "suck-tacular" then that would be just about right.

But she's pretty good in The Hours, which I think may be due to the unbelievably awful prosthetic nose that she wears.

I guess director Stephen Daldry thought that Kidman's cute, upturned nose would detract from the intense emotional pain that was Virginia Woolf's life. A nose can do that. So he had some really incompetent make-up people slap on a nose and then not bother to cover up the seam between the fake nose and the real nose. It's sort of compelling to watch the nose change from scene to scene as efforts are made to smooth it onto Kidman's face.

While Kidman is actually good, Julianne Moore, the lead in the second story, is even better. Moore plays Laura Brown, a housewife in the 1950s who hides her homosexuality from her husband because she thinks that, as a war hero, he deserves a heterosexual wife. Ahh, the innocent 1950s.

This is pretty much the same part that Moore played in Far From Heaven, though Hours has a lot less depth than that film. Moore thus has less to work with, and the shallowness of the 1950s mannerisms don't pay off as well as they do in Heaven.

The final story, set in the present day, stars Meryl Streep. For years now Streep has been America's most overrated actress. She's great at staring out into space, but she is Lawrence Olivier-bad when it comes to showing any actual emotion. It's like she's got a bag of emotion faces and she just whips one out when it's time to cry or laugh or be scared. I would describe her performance here, and pretty much everywhere, as "comically uncomfortable." Why she is considered a great actress is beyond me, unless in all of her roles to date she has actually been playing actresses who suck, in which case she is excellent.

Considering what it did for Nicole Kidman's performance, though, I think Streep would have been helped by a prosthetic nose. In fact, it would have been nice if in each succeeding story the prosthetic nose had gotten larger, as if to symbolize, oh, I don't know, something deep and meaningful. I can just see Meryl Streep wearing an enormous Toucan Sam nose that knocks over Ming vases and The Complete Works of Will and Ariel Durant as she turns around.

The sound of vases breaking would at least have been a pleasant break from the unholy soundtrack that Phillip Glass excreted upon this film. Look, would someone please shove red-hot violin strings up under Glass's fingernails until he stops making that "deedle-dee deedle-dee deedle-dee" new-age crap music? Phil: We've heard it before, like, in the last measure, and the one before that and the one before that and the one before that. It's hard to believe he used to be a respected experimental musician. I wonder how many "Heartsongs" and "Healing Through Crystals" books he had to read in order to start producing this kind of shite.

The movie is also not helped by the direction of Stephen Daldry, who used those new pretence-a-round cameras that very slowly pan up and down the painful emotion-feelings of our heartfelt moods. Everything is slowed down as if to say "look how deep and important I am! If I wasn't, would everyone be staring so intently when they spoke?"

What they speak is a David Hare script that's full of the kind of pseudo-deep stuff that American film critics who wish they were French like to pretend to like. With its unnatural rhythms, the script reads like David Mamet, if David Mamet sucked.

Now, anytime I say anything bad about middle-brow BS like this I get a ton of hate mail. It's strange: You can say whatever you want about a movie that's actually intelligent, and whatever you want about brain-dead blockbusters, and nobody gets upset as long as you don't make fun of Jesus, but if you tear into something that's not smart, but pretends to be, every pretentious half-wit in town feels personally attacked. So, to make it easier, please just send your angry emails to idontcare@dropdead.com. Thanks!

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