A film review by Craig J. Koban October 23, 2012
2012, no MPAA rating, 100
2012, no MPAA rating, 100 mins.
Jones: Alfred Hitchcock / Sienna Miller: Tippi Hedren / Imelda
Staunton: Alma Hitchcock / Carl Beukes: Jim Brown / Penelope
Wilton: Peggy Robertson
you’ve been living under a proverbial rock and have never heard of
Alfred Hitchcock or have never seen any of his masterful films,
then the new HBO telefilm THE GIRL will have you believe that the master
of cinematic suspense and one of the greatest directors of all-time was
disgusting control freak, a textbook misogynist, a self-loathingly
impotent being, and a sex starved and abusive sadist that took great
relish in nurturing and then ruining a blossoming actress’ career.
I have no doubt
that “Hitch” was a difficult man to work with; he was a film auteur that most
likely had fastidiousness that conflicted with many on his crew.
But THE GIRL – directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Gwyneth
Hughes, based on the Donald Spoto’s book SPELLBOUND BY BEAUTY – does
not seem at all interested in investigating the subtleties of Hitchcock's film
craft or probe deeply into the psychology that made him truly tick.
Instead, the film seems to be more interested in cheap titillation
and sensationalism, venturing through scene after scene of humiliating
character assassination of one of the movies’ most iconic artisans.
All in all, Hitch in this film is a fat, amoral, and disreputable
slimeball, and the scripting is so paper thin, hollow-minded, and
frustratingly one-sided in this regard that it’s really hard to take it
To be fair,
through, the film seems to accurately point out some established facts
regarding his relationship with Tippi Hedren and their collaboration on
the making of THE BIRDS, which was Hitchcock’s first film after PSYCHO,
leaving the filmmaker with something definitive to prove.
That film “introduced” the world to Hedren, who was a
successful fashion model in the 1950’s before Hitchcock saw her
beautiful face on a TV commercial. He
thought at the time that he could replicate Grace Kelly’s and Janet
Leigh’s blonde sex appeal, and he was obsessive with making Hedren and
THE BIRDS a sensation. He
signed her to a multi-year contract, but when all was said and done,
Hedren only appeared In THE BIRDS and MARNIE, as she declined to work with
the director ever again afterwards. He subsequently refused to let her out of her contract and her career was
blackballed and derailed just as it was getting started.
So, yes, Hitchcock
was a control freak, to be sure, but was he really a deviant sexual
predator of Hedren, as THE GIRL attests?
The film introduces us to Hedren (Sienna Miller, not a dead ringer
for the actress, but she captures her screen essence rather well), who was
an unknown model before appearing at a $25,000 budgeted audition for THE
BIRDS. It seems that Hitchcock (Toby Jones,
capturing the icon’s vocal intonations rather flawlessly, even if he –
like Miller – does not look precisely like his real-life counterpart) has a fetishistic fascination
with her, as he commands her – while cameras are rolling -
to embrace and passionately kiss a man on a couch.
She hesitates, after which Hitchcock dryly lashes out at her,
“You’ve draped yourself around a man before?”
The scene is kind of intriguing, showing Hedren as a woman driven
to do anything to make a name for herself; she succumbs to Hitch’s
Hitchcock see any thespian ability in Hedren that would make her a worthy
leading lady? Or, was she a
good actress that was simply intimidated and frightened of Hitchcock?
THE GIRL is decidedly and frustratingly iffy in this regard.
Certainly, Hedren realized that her financial future was in
question if she never landed the movie gig, but was she completely and
unalterably forced and frightened into a good performance by her sneering
and lecherous director? It
does not take very long in the film to show Hitchcock’s amorous desires
of Hedren brought to the forefront, especially during one nasty moment
when he forces himself upon her that could be almost described as a rape
Hedren refused to
herself over physically to Hitchcock, which strained their relationship,
but the film equally strains to use this to explain how Hitchcock mistreated her
on set. There is the infamous
story of how Hitchcock filmed the final attack scene in the THE BIRDS
using real animals instead of animatronic ones, which the director apparently
promised Hedren would indeed be fake.
Hedren then had to hellishly endure days of protected prop men
hurling ravens and crows at her, which left her a bloody and traumatized
mess. When Hitch is not
humiliating his actress in front of the camera or forcing himself on her
in the back seat of a car, he tells her non-workplace-friendly X-rated
limericks and makes further icky verbal advances on her.
The more the film progressed the more the gulf between reality and
fiction seemed to infuriatingly blur.
here are utterly thankless considering the lackluster and superficial
scripting. Miller is an
underrated actress and she has a difficult task of carrying the film,
portraying all of Hedren’s nagging self-doubts and anxiety while, at the
same time, plausibly evoking an actress that may have been just mediocre
(I think it’s hard for a good performer to purposely play wooden line
readings). Jones is no
stranger to playing real figures (he did so very well in INFAMOUS
portraying Truman Capote) and he has a leg up on Anthony Hopkins, who is playing
Hitchcock in an upcoming feature film.
Obvious prosthetic makeup transforms the already portly Jones into
the massive frame of Hitchcock (which does look better than what’s on
Hopkins in the teasers for HITCHCOCK), but Jones is creepily accurate with
rendering Hitch’s body mannerisms and vocal timbre.
It’s just a shame that he is forced to essential play a
caricature of the artist and not a fully rendered and more complex version of him.
THE GIRL is
filled with so many nagging conundrums that I got a migraine just thinking
about them. If Hedren was the
victim of abuse, then why would anyone on the set – let alone
Hitchcock’s own wife (Imelda Staunton) – allow this to happen
repeatedly? Why would she
also allow herself to be subjugated to such emotional horrors? And, quite frankly, why did Hitchcock treat her in such a
manner? What were his
motivations and/or impulses? Did
he treat just Hedren alone in this manner or all of his leading ladies, and if
so why have they never come forward to make scandalous accusations against the
man? Lastly, the film seems
to point out that Hedren was talentless as far as actresses go and
required Hitchcock to bully her into being a solid screen performer, which
is kind of insulting to her reputation and legacy as a film star.
I sincerely mean no disrespect to Hedren at all here. It’s just that THE GIRL opens up a floodgate of controversial ideas and supposed – and polarizing – facts and then never feels obligated to explore them thoroughly. It wants us – nay…forces us - to assume that Hitchcock was sick, demented, and ethically repulsive, but this portrayal is so wickedly grotesque that I found myself questioning its credibility by the time the film concluded. Hedren – if everything in this film actually happened - is a brave an intrepid soul that put up with Hitchcock long after any other sane performer would have, and the fact that Hitchcock did stunt her career and effectively sabotage it is a damning indictment of the filmmaker. The real problem with THE GIRL, though, is that it feebly attempts psychological depth with its reality-based story and personas, only to fall victim to soap opera worthy contrivances and lurid conjecture.
TAKING CHANCE (2009) 1/2
TEMPLE GRANDIN (2010)
THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP (2010) 1/2
YOU DON'T KNOW JACK (2010)
THE SUNSET LIMITED (2011)
CINEMA VERITE (2011) 1/2
GAME CHANGE (2012)
HEMINGWAY AND GELLHORN (2012) 1/2
PHIL SPECTOR (2013)
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (2013)
CLEAR HISTORY (2013)