The Iron Lady: This movie actually opened last weekend, using an awards strategy I thought had become antiquated: open your movie at the absolute latest date possible to still qualify as a 2011 theatrical release (I guess the Weinsteins could’ve insisted on opening The Iron Lady on Saturday, 12/31, but many theaters close on the early side for New Year’s Eve, or, you know, give all of their screens over to screenings of the movie New Year’s Eve). It’s a particularly bizarre strategy for The Iron Lady, because obviously Meryl Streep will receive an Oscar nomination for playing Margaret Thatcher irrespective of the film’s quality, so why be cagey about actually showing it?
Maybe it’s because this movie is underwhelming even for a single-performance showcase, a quarter-ambitious, three-quarters-muddled attempt at an impressionistic biopic. I agree with Sutton and Stewart’s assessment that the scenes with Streep as an elderly retired Thatcher, doddering around her home and hallucinating her departed husband (Jim Broadbent), are most the interesting, if only because for the movie’s first twenty or thirty minutes, it seems like this isn’t going to be a traditional biopic with a stilted old-person-receives-prompts-to-look-back structure. But it is: the movie just delays the commencement of that structure so late that this 105-minute movie doesn’t have much time to offer scenes of any real depth. The patient opening section gives way to busy cutting across Thatcher’s life with inane compare-and-contrast cues showing that she was a lady in a man’s world (behold! A single pair of high-heels in a sea of men’s shoes!) and came at her questionable political views because of her strong-willed grocer father (behold! Her pretty much actually saying this!).
To be fair, I feared something worse from Mamma Mia‘s Phyllida Lloyd, who seemed so unable to master basic visual style in that movie; The Iron Lady has more polish, but Abi Morgan’s empathetic but dull script doesn’t support the antsy, emphatic direction that suggests Lloyd, like Thatcher, has something to prove. She doesn’t quite prove it here; the movie stays so firmly on the surface that Streep, in all of her accented and made-up glory, can’t deepen it. Maybe the movie will still play for the blue-hair set, but The Iron Lady may become the rare case of weak filmmaking actually managing to undermine the vaguely undeserving Oscar bid at its center.
The Devil Inside: Here’s how you know it’s January, besides the Christmas trees on the curb and the horrible freezing cold and the general dreariness: the only wide-release movie of the weekend is a star-free horror movie that probably won’t screen for critics. The Devil Inside looks like a found footage-y exorcism thriller, which means it could be like The Last Exorcism, although that movie looked like a found footage-y exorcism thriller and turned out to be more of a character study with spooky elements (which then fell apart into generic exorcism thrills at the end). Maybe The Devil Inside has something else interesting going on that’s concealed for marketing reasons, or maybe it really is just a movie that seriously wants to tantalize people by mentioning in its ads that it was not endorsed by the Vatican. For other terrifying, spine-tingling examples of movies not endorsed by the Vatican, please see ninety-nine point nine nine percent of all movies ever made. Actually, I sort of admire the hucksterism behind that claim; it’s better than bragging that the director, William Brent Bell, has horror experience making the absolutely terrible Stay Alive.
Pariah: Not a January horror movie, but coming-of-age drama about an African-American teenager coming out as a lesbian in a less-than-welcoming environment that was inexplicably also released in that last-minute Iron Lady slot last weekend. If it wasn’t a good move for Oscar sure-thing Meryl Streep, then it can’t possibly have been a good idea to put these smaller performances up against not just Streep herself, but end-of-year afterthought status. I mean, I have a screener sitting at home and I haven’t even gotten a chance to watch that, so I’m not sure how regular moviegoers are supposed to be seeking it out theatrically. If this had come out in January or February, it could’ve been the toast of indietown for a few weeks, so maybe make your own toast and go see it this weekend? (Note: I have no idea if this movie is good but the reviews have been stellar and I’d be surprised if it’s clumsier than Iron Lady.)