Ah, consumption. That most romantic and cinematic of slow fades. Think Camille.Â Two wildly talented love objects with fatally bad lungs compete for thisÂ particular smackdown crown. Itâ€™s Frederic Chopin versus Bright Star John KeatsÂ in a death-baiting battle of ill-fated geniuses, fighting for every breath,Â playing fast and loose with history, and winning lovely lady hearts as theyÂ struggle for ours. I dare you to find two more gorgeous grandees, two saintlierÂ objects of obsession in all filmdom. Go ahead. Iâ€™ll wait here.
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Twenty-three year-old Romantic poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) falls ever soÂ gradually and ever so predictably for playing-hard-to-get girl next door FannyÂ Brawne (Abbie Cornish) in a decidedly unglamorous 1818 London. They fight atÂ first, they read poetry, and then they fall into mutual romantic obsession andÂ platonic passion on the fringes of photogenic poverty in Jane Campionâ€™s lushlyÂ photographed idyll to doomed love.
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The Defending Champion
Judy Davisâ€™ unconventionally dreamy cross-dresser George Sand pursuesÂ deliciously delicate Hugh Grantâ€™s Frederic Chopin all the way from Paris to theÂ country estate of loopy Duchess Dâ€™Antan (Emma Thompson) in director JamesÂ Lapineâ€™s lovely romantic romp through 1830â€™s France. Chopin friend and rival FranzÂ Liszt (Julian Sand) brings his lusty baby mama (Bernadette Peters) along forÂ the bumpy ride, providing plenty of romantic and comic possibilities. With allÂ the trappings of a lush period costume drama, â€œImpromptuâ€ adds lively elementsÂ of soap opera, historical drama, bedroom farce, and gorgeous classical music toÂ the mix.
FannyÂ plays muse to John, and their courtship plays itself out in tender kisses andÂ chaste embraces in beautiful meadows. Rain comes down in torrents, and flowersÂ bloom impossibly blue. The lovers part and come back together under a cloud ofÂ secrecy and strict moral standards laced with portent. Campionâ€™s visualÂ lyricism provides a suitable companion for Keatsâ€™ lush poetry, and CornishÂ makes a suitably provocative ladylove, yearning and trapped by societyâ€™sÂ moorings, yet ahead of her times in some ways. Whishaw falls a little short asÂ the poet in question; Keats was, by all accounts, something of a dish, a prettyÂ boy, and Whishaw plays doomed invalid a bit too convincingly for me. IndieÂ go-to-guy Paul Schneider plays Keatsâ€™ best friend, roommate, and considerablyÂ lesser poetic light Charles Brown; so memorable in 2007â€™s â€œThe Assassination ofÂ Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,â€ he scores here again in another periodÂ piece.
â€œImpromptuâ€ is a fizzy feast for eye and ear. The gowns areÂ glorious, the jokes and themes timeless, the passions unbridled. TheÂ observations on artistic temperament, fame, creation, and temptation ringÂ beautifully true. The brilliant ensemble cast is rounded out with theater godÂ Mandy Patinkin as one of Sandâ€™s jilted swains. Lapine, a longtime collaboratorÂ of Stephen Sondheim, called in some friends from Broadway, and it was a goodÂ call. The original script by Sarah Kernochan graces the film with originalÂ comic and psychologically astute ideas played out in a distinctly familiar –Â at least to cineastes — outline. Borrowing plot elements from Jean Renoirâ€™sÂ 1939 classic â€œRules of the Game,â€ the screenwriter proves that stealing fromÂ the very best gets you exactly where you want to go.
â€œBrightÂ Starâ€ operates under a distinct disadvantage; writing poetry simply doesnâ€™tÂ make for cinema as easily as does making music. Nor does suffering, abjectÂ poverty, illness, and wistful waiting. â€œImpromptuâ€ features two world classÂ musicians at the height of their creative powers accompanied by an ensemble ofÂ lively personalities, romantic liaisons aplenty, virtually unlimited comicÂ invention, and even an hilariously dreadful show within a show. Itâ€™s simply gotÂ more bang for your movie buck. Rent both for a glorious double feature, but, asÂ the wall-scribbling poets would say, for a fun time, â€œImpromptuâ€ is your bestÂ bet.