Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Notes on a Scandal

Lowdown: All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
One of the things Aussie critics often say about Cate Blanchett is that although she is undeniably a good actress, there has been no movie of hers that has been truly memorable. Not even her role as Elizabeth makes you think of her the way one would think of, say, Harrison Ford and Indiana Jones. Notes on a Scandal sort of goes to prove this theme: Blanchett throws an excellent performance, but the result is nothing you wouldn't forget about shortly after the DVD has been returned to the rental store.
Judi Dench, who also throws an excellent performance, is a teacher at a public school in a rather poor area of London that has seen it all. Mostly, she has seen principles coming in with all sorts of sophisticated yet useless ideas on how to improve their school; coming and going. She's cynical about it all. One day, a new, young, good looking yet rather naive teacher joins the school ranks (Blanchett). Her looks means everyone is interested in her, especially the male teachers, but it's Dench that actually gets close to her as she saves her from an embarrassing situation with her students.
The two become close and Dench learns Blanchett is married to a significantly older guy (Bill Nighy) and mothers two, including a Down Syndrome child. Life is not easy on Blanchett, who seeks refuge with Dench. Then Dench learns that Blachett is actually having an affair with one of her child students. Dench chooses to cooperate with Blanchett, but she has her price.
Notes on a Scandal is essentially a story about the loneliness of modern society, where people are having a hard time forming proper relationships with one another. On one hand it portrays the hardship of forming proper relationships while on the other it shows the cynical way in which society treats those that open themselves up in search of fellowship. It all works nicely and the performances are great, but soon enough Notes on a Scandal turns into a cheap thriller that is not so thrilling on weirdos as we the audience start feeling more like were into voyeurism than we're watching a proper film. At the end it feels more like popular junk than thought provoking cinema.
Best scene: The exposed Blanchett, tormented as hell, goes out to the street and into the arms of the press photographers that wait for her to fall in their trap. The photographers are a metaphor for society and Blanchett is the lonely person seeking contact, and with her performance it works very well.
Overall: Nice but proves the point about Blanchett's inability to come up with goods that fit her quality. 3 out of 5 stars.


Anonymous said...

Name a contemporary actress other than Meryl Streep that you think is identifiable by a character they have portrayed.

Using the analogy of Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones is a bit ridiculous, don't you think? Indiana Jones is a summer blockbuster movie in which Ford has reprised the role four times. Blanchett's not the type of actor who seems to gravitate continuously towards summer blockbuster material.

Seems it is just you and maybe one other critic that does not find anything special about Ms. Blanchett, which is fine, but to state that she has not given a memorable performance is bordering on lunacy.

As for Notes On A Scandal, there aren't many actresses out there who could stand next to Judi Dench and not be overshawdowed, but Ms Blanchett managed to do just that with a less showy role. Furthermore, I don't think many movie watchers will soon forget her performance as Katherine Hepburn or Bob Dylan.

Memorable to you is probably something in the lines of Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft or Michelle Pfeiffer as Cat Woman, well, sorry to inform you, Cate isn't that kind of actor.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Generally speaking, I agree with most of what you're saying (my main point of argument would be Indiana Jones, which was iconic as of episode 1). I also did say several times in my review that I think Blanchett, as well as Dench, threw excellent performances.
My "problem" with Blanchett, if you can call it a problem, is that if I was to be woken up in the middle of the night and asked "which film did Cate B play in" it would take me too a long while to answer despite the very acknowledged fact that she is, indeed, an excellent actress. Perhaps I should have used the word "iconic" rather than "memorable". What I'm saying is that Blanchett's choice of films to play in could use the boost of some iconic film or two that would make her an immortal actress. Notes on a Scandal, I'm afraid, is not such a film.
Another Aussie actress that is lately suffering from the same syndrome is Nicole Kidman. She has had her way with iconic films already, but since Cold Mountain she’s off the map as far as memorable films are concerned.

For the record, I really hated the Lara Croft films and I never understood what the fuss about Cat Woman was for. For a long while I have maintained that Hollywood does great injustice to actresses in not giving them central roles and always giving them the "woman beside her man" role, but if I was to point at a few exceptions I would point at Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich. It's a good example because I don't think Roberts is half as good as Blanchett and I didn't particularly like the film, but it definitely had an impression on people. Another fine example is Charlize Theron for Monster.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure you still disagree with me and that's perfectly fine. Thanks for an interesting argument.

Anonymous said...

This is what I just do not understand, why would Cate need to search for a iconic film to make her immortal?
I don't know Ms. Blanchett and certainly can't read her mind, but she doesn't seem like the type to search for a film with that mentality in mind; "I want to become imortal, I want to become immortal." Even though her film selections certainly include various, difficult and defining character portrayals.

Now you brought up Charlize Theron in Monster. This is the only actress that came to mind when I posed that question to you (to name another actress).
But what has Charlize done lately and or before Monster?
Julie Roberts another example of yours, yes she was good in Erin Brockovich, but what great role has she performed before and since?
With Cate Blanchett, her greatness comes from consistently putting out great work and yes that includes a soapy drama like Notes On A Scandal.
I commend Ms Blanchett for her work and if she never reaches the iconic level of Meryl Streep or Katharine Hepburn, she certainly has done quite well for herself.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Well, now I have to say that I totally agree with everything you're saying! I guess that's one argument solved.
Sort of. I agree that there is no real need for Blanchett to seek perceived immortality and that she should be happy with the roles she's done because she's done an excellent job with them. Hey, I consider myself a happy person and I haven't done anything iconic nor do I have the need to do anything remotely such.
However... I do think civilization will miss out on a great actress if, in who knows how many years from now, history books will fail to mention Blanchett just because she didn't do anything of an Indiana Jones type iconic-ness (when she could clearly and easily do so).
I suspect we've both made our points by now, but feel free to correct me.

Anonymous said...

No correction needed, I agree we have both made our points.

You must forgive my ignorance when it comes to these blogs. If I subscribe to this what does it entail?
Will I receive your comments and views on various subjects without searching the web?
How does this work?
Thanks, Rex

Moshe Reuveni said...

Sorry for taking my time answering - my PC was playing up with me.
To answer your question, I need to know what you intend to subscribe for. If you subscribe to have a Google account, you would get a Gmail mailbox (very useful) and be able to use all of Google's services. Once you register they're all there for you to use, you just need to click on them and play with them a bit to get the hang of thing. They include something called Google Reader, where you can specify all your favorite blogs and they will be delivered to your Google Reader account so you can read them all in one go.
Other than using Google Reader (or one of many other similar products) I am not aware of anything that would "push" blog posts towards you.
If, as an alternative, you settle with providing your email address when you add your feedback, then the system will email you on every subsequent feedback added to that particular post. That would be it, though.

Well, I hope I answered your question to one extent or another. Feel free to provide more details so I could focus my answer.
I also have to say that I was secretly entertaining the thought you were Cate Blanchett, out to defend her reputation from this stupid blogger...

Anonymous said...

I thought Notes on a Scandal was a memorable film. more so that Little Fish or Elizabeth even though she was excellent in both of those too


audrey said...

Perhaps it's because I've read the book as well, but I found Notes on a Scandal to be very memorable. Unfortunately, the end was changed for the film - the end of the book is far more subtle and chilling.

As Anonymous said, I think it would be difficult for anyone to stand next to Judi Dench and hold their own - the woman is just so, so talented. And she was fabulous in NOAS. Perhaps it's a British thing or because she's old enough to have the luxury of doing so in Hollywood, but Dench (and Streep, Mirren et al) don't seem to care about really grunging up for a role. Even Charlize Theron for Monster had to field so many questions afterwards about what it was like to put on weight - never mind portraying a tragic victim of society. No, what was it like to get FAT?

Anyhoo, Cate Blanchett - I can see what you're saying but my problem with her is slightly different to that. I can see that she's an excellent actress, she makes great choices, she looks great on screen, all those things - but there's something about her that just doesn't translate. It's like I can always see her thinking about her performance, plotting her moves and arranging her face for the scene. She's too studied and perfect.

And to draw this back to Notes on a Scandal, that was the film in which this was perfectly illustrated. You get her alongside Judi Dench, for whom the characters always seem to come so easily and whose performance was flawless, and you can see that Blanchett is thinking too much.

Since that, I've just found her very dull and boring.

You should read Zoe Hellar's original book though. It's much, much better - and I really liked the film, so that's saying something.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Hi and welcome, Audrey.
Regarding Notes on a Scandal being memorable, I still disagree with you but I'll leave it at that.
Regarding your analysis of Blanchett: I cannot say that I am perceptive enough to be able to support or contradict your view, but I definitely think you're on to the same thing I was trying to convey. If only for the fact that I took Dench's performance for granted but made a big fuss of Blanchett's. Like you, I am close to a crisis with Blanchett but for a very different reason: After seeing her in the latest Indiana Jones, I have no idea what a seemingly sane person such as her did in such an awful film and in such a stupid role in particular.
I should probably wash this notion down by watching that Bob Dylan film everyone's talking about.

P.S. Thanks for the book recommendation. I doubt I’ll get to it any time soon, but it has been noted.

Dreamer said...

I might read it... it sounds ok.

bali2sides said...

very nice bro....
i like it...

Shari said...

Really good Post

Ooyyo said...

I like the book better, too. Film is good, but somehow, the book and loneliness comes together. :)

Stephen said...

I think you're on the money. It's nice to hear someone talking some commonsense.