Dull Bright Star

It would be difficult to overstate what the poet John Keats has meant to what I’ll laughingly call my life and thought.  His poems, his letters, his biography – they’ve all been a major source of inspiration to me and touchstones for what it means to be a writer in the world.  There was a time I could recite his lengthy nightingale ode by heart and I think I can still get through at least one of the sonnets with a scotch or two in me.  You would think – I thought – that the pleasure of seeing Keats brought to life onscreen would have carried me through just about any movie from beginning to end.  But that would be to reckon without Bright Star.

I was too busy to see this when it came briefly to a theater near me but I got it the moment it was out on DVD and sat down to watch it eagerly.  What a bore!  I started drifting off during the credits – the credits, no kidding!  Twenty minutes in, I was appalled.  I started skimming and when even that seemed slow, I just fast forwarded to the unbelievably badly mishandled climax.  It’s awful, awful stuff.  Really, I would have forgiven a lot just to spend a couple of hours with Keats.  But not this.

So the question is:  how does intolerable sludge like this get the reviews it got?   “Masterfully put-together, made with confidence, intelligence and command,” says the Los Angeles Times.  “Extraordinary,” says the New Yorker.   The director’s “wild vitality makes this movie romantic in every possible sense of the word,” says the New York Times.  Every possible sense, perhaps, except the ones in the dictionary.

One can only guess where such dribbling nonsense comes from, of course, so here’s my guess.  Bright Star is a snoozer but it’s a sententious feminist snoozer.  Director Jane Campion – who I confess I’ve always felt was overrated by leftist critics on account of the leaden, finger-wagging feminism of her films – is telling the story not of Keats here, but of Fanny Brawne, the woman he loved.  But why?  Keats was a great poet, a great man and, as he said of Wordsworth, a great spirit.  The story of his death from tuberculosis at 25, convinced he was a failure when he had already written some of the greatest poetry the English-speaking world has ever known, is heart-wrenching.  His courage and grace as a human being inspired almost everyone who came in contact with him.  Fanny Brawne was…  you know, some girl he liked.  Campion’s grim insistence we find her not only interesting but as interesting as the man in her life is as off-putting as it is unsuccessful.  And the sewing – oh merciful heavens, the sewing…  Campion is telling us that women have their creativity too and it will find its way even when repressed by blaggablaggablaggablagga.  Sew what?

The critics aren’t stupid.  They’re just ideological and dishonest.  They hear what Campion’s saying and they declare it gives an absolutely motionless piece of scenery emotional power.  It doesn’t.  Flick stinks.

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  • Larry

    Sounds like yet another biopic that at the end my wife would ask – How much of that was true?, and I’d reply – probably not a word.

    Wow, I only know a bit of Keats, but even in my extremely limited knowledge, I am aware there is a REAL story in his life – way beyond his attraction to Fanny. This sounds like even medical documentary on TB would have served Keats better.

  • http://dailywoof.wordpress.com Kensington

    Ugh, I hate when critics lavish praise on mediocre films out of political solidarity.

    See also, The Joy Luck Club.

  • Anon

    Have you never seen a Jane Campion film (for example “In the Cut” or “The Piano”)? She only works on one theme: Women are repressed and must find their voice (quite literally in The Piano). It’s like asking Katheryn Bigelow to direct a movie that isn’t in some fashion about adrenaline junkies. Truth is you need to write the Keats movie you want to see. She wrote the movie she wanted to see.

    To be perfectly clear I have no disagreement with your argument about lavishing praise upon the so-called pioneers.

  • Thunderbottom

    Googled “Jane Campion”. She looks like the type of “womyn” I’d do my level best to avoid at a social gathering for fear of having to endure some droning monologue about the perils of “patriarchy” and “phallocentrism”.

  • Mark

    You didn’t watch the whole film (you admit you fast-forwarded to the end), therefore your opinion on it is null and void and means nothing, because it is an opinion formed without all the facts (in this case the whole film). By extension, your opinion on what others think of it is null and void as well.

    I doubt you’d accept a review of True Crime from someone who read the first 100 pages then skipped right to the last 50, and I doubt you’d take them seriously when they assess what others think of it.

    And it’s wonderful how you just ASSUME that the film gets praise because of a feminist slant. As if, since some critics disagree with you, there HAS to be a reason other than the simple fact that they think it’s a good movie and you don’t.

    It doesn’t surprise me that, being a conservative, you constantly look for any chance to stand on your soap-box and blast the “liberal Hollywood elite”, but to critique a movie you haven’t even watched is just sad, Klavin.

    Nice try, though, Andrew. Nice try.

  • JoeCR

    They tell us in pictures and song that they hate greed. They run to help when the cameras are there to ooh! and Ah! They write songs about love and it doesn’t ring true. Question: Is there any loving kindness left in America’s creative class. Everything seems to be about money or ideology. Is anything truly altruistic in Hollywood, the music industry, or publishing? I’m not against making money or having positions in politics, but does anyone think that I want to give something worthy, helpful, beautiful to people?

    Thank you Andrew for speaking truth and encouraging better things. You are one of the good guys.

  • DC Rout

    I admit “Bright Star” is slow, painfully slow. The film isn’t awful, it’s an art house film. There are moments in film which are beautifully acted, many shots are absolutely worthy of Kubrick in the framing and are visual picture postcards. The film’s boorish feud between Brawne and Brown is tiresome and since I knew little of Keat’s biography the film gets confusing for anyone not familiar with the details of Keat’s life. At the end Brawne cuts her hair and puts on “knighted colors” and mourns for years over the death of fiancee. A very un-feminist end that a true feminist believer would cut, but to give Campion her due she stays true to the story. This is a film written by a Keats fan who loves the literature he wrote during the final Brawne phase of the poet’s life. Little action, no sex, no brutal violent men, Bright Star is a art film without politics. It’s not great, but its not a feminist film.

  • LBRussell

    “This is a film written by a Keats fan …”

    But then why not make a film about, say, Keats?

  • http://kingdomofdoom.wordpress.com/ Noah R.

    Or maybe they just liked it. That ever occur to you?

  • AtheistConservative

    “You didn’t watch the whole film (you admit you fast-forwarded to the end), therefore your opinion on it is null and void and means nothing, ”

    Awesome! So we should expect every single left-winger to shut up about Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Fox News, and so forth?

  • Julie Bozarth

    I love this type of film. I was all set to love this film. I was very excited to finally get a chance to see it, just as you said, when it came to dvd, because I had missed my chance at the theater. But it was irritating. She was irritating. It didn’t ring true. I became so bored, I got on the computer while it was on. Then I would sit and give it my attention, then get bored again. I turned it off and thought about trading it in at the used dvd store.

    But, I decided that after paying all that for it, I would sit down once more, giving it my undivided attention, and watch it to the end. I have to say that when I did this, they did finally make me care and I did feel the loss and their love for each other by the end of the movie.

    But it should have been a better script than this. It should have been a better movie than this. I wish someone would try again. There are many movies that I love, that others might think slow or boring: ‘Dear Frankie’, ‘On a Clear Day’, ‘Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont’, and ‘I Am David’…..but I am still really shocked at the critics’ raves for ‘Bright Star’ – it was really missing something and I am surprised that none of them found this to be so.

  • Fallon

    I must admit the reading of Keats at the end of the film, while the credits were rolling, was my favorite part of the movie.

    I watched the film all the way through last week and thought, meh. In hindsight, I am starting to hate the film as I started coughing about the same time as Keats did in the movie and have been sick now for almost a week with a wicked cold and cough.

    Is there such a thing as hysterical TB?

  • waicool

    I googled Jane Campion images, chick looks like a dude, God love her. Never watched this film, never even read Keats, well, maybe back in HS for lit class, it never made much of an impression, whatever. Woah, its Miller Time, gotta go.

  • http://www.devinetoursrome.com Charles Collins

    Reminds me of The Perfect Storm. Horrible story of what some people think “authentic, working class” people are like. You know, stupid. Yet the people you are really interested in: Coast guard folks who jump into hurricanes to save people, that is just a little side story.

  • TheEngineer

    Bravo AtheistConservative.

    Bravo indeed.

  • http://dailywoof.wordpress.com Kensington


    When a film bores its viewer to the point that they start fast forwarding, that’s a valid basis for criticism, particularly if the critic acknowledges it.

  • http://oraculations.blogspot.com Howard Veit

    I have a movie going rule that is almost totally correct. If Ebert, the NYT, Newsweek, and the LA Times likes it, I know it’s a bomb and a half. These guys don’t like movies they like talk. Their thing is plays where all the so-called intellects gather to hear stuff, and stuff, and even more stuff. all of it being real deep with appropriate obscure literary references. If a reviewer likes a horror movie, you know it stinks.

  • vonbusca

    Mark, don’t you realize that when a reviewer says, “What a bore! I started drifting off during the credits – the credits, no kidding! Twenty minutes in, I was appalled” – that in fact is a review?

    The fact that it was so boring that 20 minutes in Klavan had to fast forward through it tells me far more than, “Masterfully put-together, made with confidence, intelligence and command.”

    By the way, some of us who watch a lot of movies and have a natural sense for story, can skim through a movie and tell you accurately if the film is interesting or not. Yeah, it’s true.

    Nice try, Mark, nice try.

  • http://www.isawlightningfall.com Loren Eaton

    Mr. Klavan (if I may address you as such!), I agree that Bright Star was a bit slow-moving. But what did you think about its treatment of sex and honor? I found that surprisingly conservative, not at all what I would’ve expected from a director with feminist leanings.

    P.S. Love your books …