Friday Flicks September 13: “The Goldfinch” & “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice”

M.V. MoorheadSeptember 2019
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Opening wide this weekend:

The Goldfinch—When he happens to be in the Metropolitan Museum of Art during a terrorist bombing, 13-year-old Theo takes the opportunity to walk out of the wreckage with the title painting, by Rembrandt’s student Fabritius. Motherless after the disaster, Theo is taken in by a rich Manhattan family led by weirdly knowing Mom Nicole Kidman, until his greedy washed-up-actor Dad (Luke Wilson) and Dad’s floozy girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) show up and spirit him off to a nowhere subdivision in Nevada.

Everybody from antiques restorers to Russian gangsters ultimately enter the twisting tale, which carries on for years until young Theo (Oakes Fegley) has lengthened out into Ansel Elgort. Directed by John Crowley of 2015’s Brooklyn, and handsomely shot by the great Roger Deakins, this adaptation of Donna Tarrt’s novel has an interesting—if not always plausible—story, but there must have been a more efficient way to tell it. Large stretches, especially the coming-of-age Nevada chapters, are leaden longueurs.

Impatient as I was with this irksome movie, though, I must admit that I wanted to know how it turned out. As usual, it was the actors that kept me engaged. Elgort, here as in his earlier roles, is a fascinating figure, with his not-fully-formed yet favored-child quality. In his old-school suits and Clark Kent spectacles, he kept reminding me of Rudy Vallee’s obnoxious nephew in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and while he commands our attention as Theo, he isn’t automatically sympathetic.

The vets are the real strength of The Goldfinch. Kidman strikes a fine unearthly tone; having her for a surrogate Mom might result in some time on a Freudian’s couch. Boyd Gaines is funny as her nautically minded, enthusiastic-in-a-vacuum husband; Wilson has one scary, daringly-played scene; Paulson brings some poignant dimension to an underwritten part; Jeffrey Wright has a dignified bearing as Theo’s antiquarian mentor, and Denis O’Hare is gleefully creepy as ever as a crooked collector. Longtime scene-stealer Robert Joy has an eerie moment here, as Wright’s hapless partner and Theo’s “accomplice.” But all of these entertaining parts remain, alas, greater than their sum.

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice—This documentary traces the chanteuse from her joyously eclectic musical childhood in Tucson to her Stone Poney days through Heart Like a Wheel through trios with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris through duets with Aaron Neville to Nelson Riddle arrangements to Gilbert & Sullivan to Mariachi songs. It gives us a great dose of her singing—though even so, I found myself sighing with irritation every time an interview voice, even Ronstadt’s own, interrupted a number.

Better even than the music—well, almost—this movie, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman, gives us a strong dose of the person; her charm, her directness, her no-nonsense intelligence, her modesty and generous, unthreatened admiration of other artists of which she’s a fan. I can’t remember another documentary in which a popular artist comes across so likably.

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