|"It's as if we couldn't stand being happy, so we ripped ourselves apart again."|
|Time: 100 mins.|
Paltrow may be the best actress of her generation and her performance in SYLVIA only adds to her cache as a first-rate actress. Unfortunately, the script is not half as compelling as one expects it to be considering the volatile life of itsí subject. As a whole, the film has a haunting, lyrical quality thanks to the stunning cinematography and passionate score a sense of danger waiting to take over the life of this talented young poet. That her perfect world eventually sinks into utter despair is no surprise since the one thing everyone knows about Plath is how she exited this world. While the film manages to capture the torturously passionate relationship she had with her husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes (Craig), it flounders when attempting to illuminate the inner soul or talent of Sylvia. Thereís clearly a deep connection between the two (thanks to Paltrow and Craig), but besides their insane devotion to poetry and their physical beauty, itís hard to understand why they were together.
They had little in common save their ambition to be famous poets and both were obviously ill-suited for the domestic life. They were brilliant writers and I guess for some people that would be enough of a basis for a relationship, but frankly I was hoping the film would give us more of why they were together instead of why they fell apart. Itís an uneven portrayal that doesn't do justice to their work or relationship. In addition, for a film about poets, very little poetry is uttered and what is isnít either of the characters work. As told here, this could have been the story of any two people, since it does nothing to expand our knowlegde of what made these particular people tick. Since Plath only left us her poetry and not a journal, one can only guess at the reasons behind her actions, yet the filmmaker doesn't even do that. Use her poetry to fill in the blanks. Interpret. That's the whole point of a biopic, to bring to life the inner workings of a person. In this case, hearing her own words over the scenes of her darkest hours would have been far more compelling than her bitter silence.
The film leaves so many questions unanswered. Why would a woman as talented and brilliant as Sylvia stay with a man who refuses to be faithful to her? He is one sexy creature, but she was also a very attractive woman who could have had any man she wanted. Granted, their story takes place before the sexual revolution and feminism, but Sylvia clearly did not care about conforming to society and her talent allowed her to support herself. Her trouble was that she believed he completed her, but the film never gives a compelling reason why she felt that way. The only things he seems to be able to do well are write poetry and make love. I guess, as a modern woman, I need better reasons than that for such a dynamic woman to continue to allow her heart to be trampled on. Granted, she was clearly not the easiest person to get along with; however, it's hard to feel sorry for Hughes when he basically causes his own troubles. Why he would choose to stay with his pregnant mistress instead of returning to his wife and two children is another mystery the film struggles to explain. Sylvia is clearly in a death spiral she can no longer control, but isn't his duty to his legal family?
Her despair at losing him for good is palpable, leaving her choice to end her life as the only option left. The loss of such a great talent at such a young age (30) is devastating to watch. As one-dimensional as the character is (which is the fault of the script not Paltrow) you still want her to find some glimmer of hope, some reason to keep on living. Of course, her best work came from the heartbreak she suffered due to her husband's infidelity. Her poetry and fame would not have existed without him. So, the lesson learned is to be careful what you wish for. She finally eclipsed him, but at quite a cost. While SYLVIA is a beautifully acted and executed piece, the story left me flat and desperately wanting more. It relies to much on obvious emotion, failing, in the end, to capture the complexity of this intense and intelligent woman. I guess I'll have to seek out Plath's own words to find the answers I'm seeking.