Directed by Sacha Gervasi
The conceit of this brisk, star-studded domestic comedy (in biopic drag), showcasing an oddly glazed-over Master of Suspense impersonation by Sir Anthony Hopkins, is that Alfred Hitchcock’s unlikely smash hit Psycho didn't just push the studio-picture envelope—it also stress-tested the director’s marriage, leading him to view his wife, at long last, as a legitimate collaborator. The first narrative feature from Sacha Gervasi, who previously made the enjoyable heavy-metal doc Anvil!, marshals showbiz-history research toward something resembling a battle-of-the-sexes sitcom. Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren, earning Oscar buzz for doing a lot with a little), nags her corpulent companion about the calories he’s consuming while suffering in silence through his creepy obsessions with his leading ladies (a subject also taken up by the recent HBO movie The Girl); in turn, he belittles the script that filmmaker-in-her-own-right Alma is working on with a rival for her affections (Danny Huston). Soon, though, husband and wife must work together in the cutting room to salvage the self-financed slasher movie on which they’ve staked everything (including their house)—a grisly picture nobody wanted the stubborn one-liner machine to make as a follow-up to the popular North by Northwest.
Gervasi and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin visualize Hitchcock’s private communing with the macabre by staging occasional fantasy interactions with serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), Psycho’s real-life inspiration; in the film’s opening scene, a fourth-wall-breaking Hitchcock archly introduces “our little movie” on the grounds of the Gein farmhouse. These interludes do little to instill any sense of an active creative process, and possess a near-zany tone that’s hard to square with the 1960 film.
Meanwhile, Hitchcock’s on-set material settles in on a softball Hollywood-plays-itself level: we get a lost-looking Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, a contrastingly poised Scarlett Johanssen as Janet Leigh, and, best of all but least seen, a skittery James D’Arcy as Tony Perkins, the butt of the script’s most gratuitous jokes (in one of them, Leigh tells Hitch that girls love candy corn—and that she found some in her costar’s dressing room). But this is all, ultimately, eclipsed by the Hitchcock domestic conflict, and there’s something more than a little unseemly about using an innovative film’s making-of story as the backdrop for a married-life plot that’s so thoroughly derivative.
Opens November 23