31 Days, 31 Movies 12/15: A Quiet Passion
This movie may be too white even for me: someone whose favorite movie is La La Land and who thinks that Heath Ledger’s second best performances is 10 Things I Hate About You. Emily Dickinson is an excellent poet who I don’t think I have ever wondered, “hmmm, what was she like as a person?” But if you have, Terence Davies and Cynthia Nixon have the film for you.
Terence Davies is a critical darling, he makes quiet character pieces with strong leads and exceptional attention to detail. He also makes movies that no one who isn’t a critic has ever liked. Currently at the time of writing this A Quiet Passion is at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and listed on a few publication’s best movies of 2017 lists. It also has an impressive 48% from the audience. Davies makes movies to be featured at the Toronto film festival or Sundance and not much else. You could easily be a cinephile and have no experience with Davies’ films. Before A Quiet Passion I had seen one of his films and had heard of less than half of the others: Sunset Song (critics: 80%, audience: 51%), The Deep Blue (critics: 80%, audience: 51%), The House of Mirth (critics: 81%, audience: 72%), The Neon Bible (critics: 60%, audience: 45%). The extent to which we all use Rotten Tomatoes ratings today is ridiculous, I’ve never once decided to see or not see a movie based on either of the ratings on RT and I wish people would stop doing that. Although it is hard to argue against RT when it is our best option in this category because the next only other thing is iMDB ratings which are just dog shit.
So here I am, watching a movie that is only for movie critics as someone who isn’t a movie critic and trying to be objective about it. There are definitely good things about A Quiet Passion, Cynthia Nixon gives a fantastic performance as Emily Dickinson; viewers familiar with Dickinson’s poetry will find a lot familiarity and truth in Nixon’s portrayal of the beloved author. The production and costume design is exemplary, as far as period pieces go there is an incredible attention to detail and effort that went into perfecting the recreation of mid-1800s New England. And the truth of it is that that is all that this movie needs to be a worthwhile watch: a fascinating lead performance, adequate directing and writing, and incredible set design. The artistry is there and that should be commended but it is anything but fun to watch there is little to enjoy here. At a staggering 119-minute run time it is a tough hang and for those familiar with the end of Emily Dickinson’s life it won’t come as a surprise that it doesn’t really get more enjoyable as the film goes on.
Cynthia Nixon’s performance is undeniably remarkable and for fans of acting A Quiet Passion is a can’t miss of 2017. It also has a subtle beauty about it that reflects its subject well and its deliberate pacing and witty writing will satisfy hardcore Dickinson fans. Unfortunately it does not have much else to offer the casual viewer and with forgettable supporting performances and what feels like an unnecessarily long run time there it is hard to recommend A Quiet Passion to most viewers.