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Cass' review of
Sylvia
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Sylvia

Sylvia (2003)
Rated R; running time 110 minutes
Genre: Drama
Written by: John Brownlow
Directed by: Christine Jeffs
Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Blythe Danner, Jared Harris, Michael Gambon, Amira Casar, Lucy Davenport, Eliza Wade, Andrew Havill

Review Copyright Cassandra Henry, 2003


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"She just crawled into a hole and just waited to die." -- Aurelia Plath


CASS' CLIP (WARNING: **spoilers below**)
The year is 1956 and Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow), 23, is attending Cambridge University on a Fulbright Scholarship. She meets Edward "Ted" Hughes (Daniel Craig), 26, at a party. They dance, they kiss and predictably, they quickly fall in love.

In the beginning, these lovebirds are passionate about two things -- poetry and each other. But when Sylvia tells Ted, "I tried to kill myself three years ago. I broke into the box where my mother kept the sleeping pills ...I was dead, but I rose up like Lady Lazarus," that should have been a warning sign to him about her mental instability. Instead, Ted marries Sylvia and they move back to Massachusetts. Sylvia's relationship with her mother, Aurelia (Blythe Danner), is a bit strained. Nevertheless, Sylvia still desperately wants her mother to like Ted so she seeks Aurelia's approval. "Why can't you be pleased for me? I love him," Sylvia says more in defiance than out of true love for Ted. "Then I like him," Aurelia concedes.

Sylvia teaches poetry at Smith College, and Ted lectures about poetry to admiring female undergraduates at the University of Massachusetts. While Ted wins the prestigious Harper's Poetry Prize, Sylvia's career is as not well received by literary critics. As a result, Sylvia claims she's unable to write while in Massachusetts so they return to England. Sylvia gives birth to two children, and as a substitute for her writer's block, she turns into Betty Crocker. When Ted starts leaving Sylvia and the kids at home for long periods of time, her insecurities, paranoia and jealousy become overwhelming. Ted denies that he is having an affair, but his continued callousness only exacerbates Sylvia's distrust.

AHA! A woman's intuition is never wrong. Ted finally admits to having an extramarital affair, and his mistress, Assia Wevill (Amira Casar), just happens to be pregnant. Their estrangement does, however, inspire Sylvia to write. "Now he's gone, I'm free. I can write. I really feel like God is speaking through me." But this sense of clarity is short lived and Sylvia's depression obscures her judgment.

Will the things that initially connect Sylvia and Ted -- poetry and passion -- eventually tear them apart? Was Sylvia's writer's block a byproduct of Ted's unfaithfulness or did Ted use Sylvia's mental instability as an excuse for his infidelity? Will Sylvia's fascination with death become a reality?


DA 411
I went to see Sylvia because I remembered that my high school English teacher forced my fellow classmates and I to read, memorize and recite some of Ms. Plath's poems.

Excerpt from "Lady Lazarus"
by Sylvia Plath, from "Ariel", (c) 1966

" ...And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
 ...
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
 ...
Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well ..."

========

Excerpt from "Daddy"
by Sylvia Plath, from "Ariel", (c) 1966

" ...At twenty I tried to die
 ...
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
 ...
There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through ..."

But when I left the theater, I had very mixed feelings about this movie. I was hoping to hear more of Plath's poems but it was reported that her estate only allowed snippets of her work to be recited. In terms of Plath's unique prolific calling, this film seemed to continue to perpetuate how Sylvia always lived in Ted's more respected shadow. [Hughes later became Britain's poet laureate]. Instead of depicting how intelligent and gifted this Fulbright scholar really was, John Brownlow's screenplay appears to delve more into the scandalous events surrounding Plath and Hughes' seven-year volatile relationship. [Hughes' second wife, Assia Wevill, also killed herself and their daughter. What was so special about Hughes that his first two wives committed suicide?]

Gwyneth Paltrow does bear some resemblance to Sylvia Plath, but that doesn't necessarily translate into an Oscar worthy performance. That's not to say that Paltrow's portrayal was bad because I felt she was committed to the characterization of Plath. It's just that her attempts to channel the rage that fueled Plath's poetry came across as acting. On the other hand, she was outstanding in the rowboat and the dinner scenes. Daniel Craig did a decent enough job in his role as Ted Hughes. The remaining cast members -- Blythe Danner (Gwyneth Paltrow's real mother), Jared Harris, Michael Gambon and Amira Casar -- are merely characters who move the storyline along to its inevitable tragic conclusion.

[Sidebar -- Part of what I also remembered discussing in my high school English class was Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, and the glamorization of women committing suicide. Grant it, Plath was already suicidal prior to meeting Hughes. Nonetheless, teaching girls/women to romanticize about killing themselves because their relationships with boys/men don't work out is detrimental to their emotional psyche. Instead of putting men on pedestals, girls/women should be self-reliant and embrace their own self-worth.]

If Sylvia has a familiar feel about it, it's because it's reminiscent of several other movies -- The Hours, [Nicole Kidman's depiction of writer Virginia Woolf, who commits suicide]; Frida [for its portrayal of the tumultuous marriage of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera]; Far From Heaven [for its period piece and outstanding cinematography]; and A Beautiful Mind [for its somewhat melodramatic score].


CASS' CONCLUSION
Sylvia was about two young poets meeting, falling in love, getting married and having two children. He cheats on her, and then leaves her for his pregnant mistress, which culminates in her suicide. The way I see it, Sylvia seems more suited for Masterpiece Theater than the big screen.


SYLVIA:   fyel

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Copyright Cassandra Henry, 2003
EMAIL: cass@3blackchicks.com

Use the feedback form below to send your comments to Cass



More 3BlackChicks™ review(s) for this week:
(movies reviewed through 10/31/03):

Cass' reviews:
Sylvia

Bams' reviews:
Brother Bear | In The Cut | Finding Nemo (DVD)

The Diva's reviews:
Brother Bear | Alien: The Director's Cut


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