Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Claire Danes
Director: Stephen Daldry
Drawing on both fact and fiction THE HOURS is an intelligent, deliberately paced film, which entwines three different storylines from different eras. In the first, Nicole Kidman stars as the writer Virginia Woolf; living with her husband in 1920’s Richmond she struggles to finish her novel ‘Mrs Dalloway’ whilst simultaneously battling against a debilitating mental condition. The second narrative strand is based around Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), a suburban housewife and mother living in 1950’s Los Angeles. Laura is clearly unhappy and feels that she is trapped by her superficially serene lifestyle – a feeling that is exacerbated by the influence of the book that she is reading – ‘Mrs Dalloway’. Finally there is Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep). Living in contemporary New York she is, in many respects, a modern day Mrs Dalloway – a nickname that is bestowed upon her by her friend Richard (Ed Harris), a poet who is dying of AIDS, and who Clarissa is none-too-secretly in love with.
Similar themes permeate all three plot strands: loneliness, depression, death, unrequited love, illness; and in all three storylines suicide is present as a potential means of escape from a suffocating existence. But despite the dour nature of the material THE HOURS is very literate, cleverly written, well acted, and quietly gripping. It is the kind of film which, understandably, appeals to serious ak-tours: every role affords the opportunity for emotional indulgence and the fact that the screenplay is by a renowned playwright, David Hare, is evident in the kudos that is invested in the many supporting roles which only appear in one or two scenes. An unusually impressive supporting cast (including Jeff Daniels, Miranda Richardson, and Claire Danes) is employed to essay the roles of these second-string characters, and each of the scenes which they share with one of the three leads is essentially a two-hander that resonates with the intensity of a stage drama.
Although some viewers may find the film too lugubrious there is much depth to be found in all three plotlines, particularly that which involves Julianne Moore’s deeply unhappy housewife. The overstretched normality of her brightly coloured middle-class comfort echoes the skewed suburbia of David Lynch: from the Sapphic undertones of Laura’s relationship with her glamorous neighbour (Toni Collette), to the overbearing ‘niceness’ of her husband (John C Reilly) whose pleasantness and banality is so saccharine that it develops a stultifying menace.
In view of all of its positive factors I am duty bound to recommend THE HOURS. It is a very good film and is worthy of the various awards and nominations that it has garnered. However, I do also feel that I should make clear that it is consistently downbeat almost to the point of being depressing. And whilst it is certainly more challenging than the usual fare on offer at the average multiplex it will probably fail to find favour with the majority of moviegoers.