For those who enjoy cuddling up with a good book, there is “The Goldfinch.” As this movie is almost three hours long, you could almost read the book in that amount of time. Not really, but this adaptation is based on Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name. The book spent thirty weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, which makes it the most eagerly anticipated literary adaptation in recent memory.
Surprisingly, director John Crowley (“Brooklyn”) caters to a very narrow audience. As we were the only ones in the theater during our viewing, we can say, “mission accomplished.” The story is a sprawling soap opera about a deeply troubled boy coming of age after life tragically knocks him down and almost out. Worse yet, life continues to beat him over the head; that is when he’s not doing it to himself.
Oakes Fegley (“Pete’s Dragon”) is masterful as 13-year old Theo Decker, whose mother is killed in a terrorist attack at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Confused in the chaos and rubble of the bombing, Theo secretly places a priceless piece of art known as “The Goldfinch” in his backpack.
As this painting was a favorite of his mother, having it in his possession provides some level of solace. Yet, knowing it is dishonest, it also gives the conflicted young man an ongoing sense of guilt. As his alcoholic father (Luke Wilson “Idiocracy”) left years before, Theo is taken to a foster home on the Upper East Side. Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman), mother of four, takes an instant interest in the recently orphaned child.
This engaging journey addresses child abandonment issues, family, friendships and growing up, whether in New York City or Las Vegas. It’s not just that the movie is so long, which it is, but each scene left us hanging as if saying “hold that thought.” We’re okay with that, but it took so long to develop each scene and there were so many loose ends, it, unfortunately, became exasperating and then just annoying.
In spite of the pacing, or lack thereof, we never lost interest along the way and suggest the payoff, such as it is, is worth the wait. The adult Theo is played by the talented and charismatic Ansel Elgort (“Baby Driver”). Elgort credibly captures the emotional weight of the troubled young man, trying to find himself and then developing into a successful businessman. The ultimate mystery is if Theo can ever find any level of happiness.
Jeffrey Wright (“Hunger Games”) finally gets a large enough role to display his acting chops, as Hobie the antique dealer. Meanwhile, Sarah Paulson, who mesmerized us as District Attorney Marcia Clark in “American Crime Story,” stunningly transforms herself into Xandra, slutty wife of Theo’s loser dad.
Rather than a contiguous story, it plays more like a series of vignettes; each features heartbreak, betrayal and hope. The dialog by Peter Straughan (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) is crisp and well-executed by the superb and charming cast. The total is less than the sum of the parts, but it is nevertheless compellingly and curiously entertaining.
There are many factors that irrevocably change our lives, but traumatic events are shocking and visible. Watching someone else’s grief, and the toll it can take, can be emotionally therapeutic, especially if done thoughtfully and perceptively.
“The Goldfinch” is 149 minutes and rated R for drug use and language. Theo explains, “There was before and there was after (the bombing). The only thing between was The Goldfinch.” The flashbacks toggle between those subplots and finally come full circle just enough to tie up the loose ends. Then again, we were still left in position to draw some of our own conclusions, and maybe that’s not so bad.
We can’t help but commiserate with “Little Boy Lost,” as we are all vulnerable and damaged, but also resilient. Although fragmented and flawed, this picture is as exquisite as any painting in an art gallery. Some will appreciate its particular splendor while others may prefer a different artistic style. Then again, some can’t get much past dogs on black velvet, playing poker.
Ron’s Rating: B
Leigh’s Rating: C