Tolstoy, Plus Boobs

Despite its pretentiousness, 'The Last Station' is actually an amusing, breast-filled romantic comedy

It's a rule of Oscar-season cinema that if you're making a highbrow period drama, you not only have free license to show naked breasts; you're ethically obligated to do so.

It's as though modern breasts are sleazy and exploitive, but period breasts enlighten our moral conscience. Strangely, audiences that get picky about the historical accuracy of sets and costumes never complain about an anachronistic bosom. Still, if you demand historical accuracy in all things, The Last Station is reasonably successful. Kerry Condon, who plays the breast-wielding Masha, has clearly worked with leading breast coaches to find the perfect breast presentation for 1910, the year in which this tale of the final days of Lev Tolstoy occurs.

Tolstoy—in case you only read books about scrappy ex-governors and their battles against the free media—was once considered the greatest novelist in the world, and was also something of a soft-hearted leftie. Despite being a count and having a massive estate and scores of servants, he thought it was a bad idea to let rich people go on sponging off the work of the poor. So, toward the end of his life, he decided to pay back the peasants by changing his will to give all future royalties from his books to the good people of Russia. This created some conflict with his wife, Sofya, who thought it might be better to leave the money to her, because, she claimed, the peasants had an interest in whoring that exceeded the interest in whoring maintained by people of good taste and breeding.

Christopher Plummer plays Tolstoy, and Christopher Plummer is very old, so, by Hollywood logic, he must be a great actor. He's joined by Helen Mirren as Sofya. Mirren is actually hilarious in the movie; in fact, The Last Station should probably be marketed as a comedy. It's definitely got more laughs than Zombieland or The Hangover, and there are far fewer scenes of people vomiting, pooping or being eaten by bourgeois reactionaries.

Mirren isn't the only one who gives a good performance. Plummer does a decent job of creating a jovial and probably completely inaccurate version of Tolstoy. It's not a deeply realized character, but he's fun to watch.

Paul Giamatti, as Tolstoy's friend Chertkov, is a little too stagey. Chertkov is presented as a villain, because he opposes the wishes of the sympathetic Sofya. So, in what is either a mildly clever joke or a complete absence of self-awareness by director Michael Hoffman, Giamatti spends much of the film literally twirling his mustache. I mean, he has this waxed mustache, and he reaches up and twirls it. Just, literally, twirls it. I keep writing that, but it's hard to imagine that it can be read as anything but a metaphor, so I'll just note that by "literally," I literally mean "literally."

The heart and soul of this mildly entertaining outing, though, is James McAvoy as Tolstoy's secretary, Valentin Bulgakov. Bulgakov is a virgin, in that he's never put his penis inside another person's body. But then he meets the free-spirited and naked-breasted Masha, and next thing you know, he's inserting himself into her life. Literally.

The Last Station isn't a challenging or subtle movie. It's about on par with your average romantic comedy, and it only gains a veneer of respectability by being set in the past, focusing on a great novelist and having some intentionally boring parts. But it's not a terrible movie. It just isn't worthy of its pretense.

Actually, neither is War and Peace, which is a very good novel that somehow got the reputation of being the greatest novel ever written. In fact, it's a mixture of pointed social criticism and titillating soap-opera elements. The Last Station is like that, only with Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer bickering and cavorting and making the beast with two liver-spotted backs.

So it's all in good fun, and I can't imagine that any animals were seriously injured during the making of this film. Plus, it's February, so if you want to see a movie, it's this or The Tooth Fairy. I'm guessing the quality of the breast work is better in The Last Station, but then I'm not a competent judge of Dwayne Johnson's nipples.


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