Jane Campion’s BRIGHT STAR is easy to underrate because it drifts by quite easily, very lovely to look at and quite nice, making some effort to get the audience to really hear poetry, not always wholly succeeding, not quite managing something which would cross over the arthouse barrier and hit the teen market the way ROMEO + JULIET did (I’ve since come to thoroughly loathe Luhrmann’s style, but seeing that film in a cinema full of sobbing schoolies made me appreciate its brute effectiveness) — but that doubtless wasn’t Campion’s aim anyway.
I would almost compare the effect to somebody like Olivier Assayas, whose films grip with such cushioned gentleness that you’re scarcely aware of being interested at all, except that you can’t look away. And Campion also has a nice rogue element, in the form of Paul Schneider as Keats’s friend, Charles Armitage Brown. Good Ol’ Charlie Brown! Keats groupies seem to be divided between those supporting the poet’s lover, Fanny Brawne, and those who reject Fanny and regard CAB as Keats’s true friend. Campion, of course, is on the side of Fanny.
Schneider plays Brown with a Scottish accent borrowed largely from Mike Myers’ work in SHREK, for which I don’t believe there is much historical evidence. It’s not the worst attempt at a Scots accent I’ve ever heard, but it’s slightly second-hand and certainly not convincing to a native — not as downright weird as Anna Paquin’s in THE PIANO, which deserves some kind of STAR TREK-sponsored reward, but AP had a pretty good alibi in that she was Canadian, shooting in New Zealand, and aged ten. Schneider is American, but at least he was thirty-two and shooting in the UK.
However, despite his linguistic handicap, Schneider is a barrel of smiles (and you can get more of those in a barrel than you can laughs: stack them sideways to avoid breaking a smile) — while the film’s lovers are quite teenaged in their all-or-nothing romanticism, Brown is a peevish little git, emotionally about three years old, an agglomeration of lousy traits packed within a meaty, fundamentally fairly decent personage. Watch him be annoying! It’s great.
The little girl’s great too. Adorable and completely real.
The other real coup in the film is Abbie Cornish’s meltdown at the end, the rawest expression of grief Fiona and I could remember having seen, ever. In a film, anyway. Cornish and Ben Whishaw are both excellent throughout, but this moment of unphotogenic pure trauma was a very considerable feat. Now I want to see IN THE CUT to see if it’s as bad as everyone says.