DVD ReviewsRating: 5 of 5 yaps

Bright Star

2009 could be termed The Year of the Forgotten Female.

As awards season descends, performances such as Maya Rudolph’s tentative mother-to-be in “Away We Go,” Ellen Page’s derby queen on the verge in “Whip It,” and even Gabourey Sidibe’s sullen, haunted teen in “Precious,” have been cast aside in favor of showier roles.  Sadly, the current Hollywood scene seems to favor sweeping revelations set to swelling music over subtle, personal journeys that are often infinitely more rewarding, for actresses and audiences alike.

The same is true for Abbie Cornish in “Bright Star,” Jane Campion’s latest and largely forgotten period piece.  As Fanny Brawne, wealthy fashion enthusiast and muse to destitute poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw), Cornish must rely on dry wit, small gestures and well-bred words.  The results may require more attention on the audience’s part, but it pays off in spades.

Campion leaves no detail ignored, using lighting and camera angles the way a painter uses brushstrokes.  The flowers and butterflies of the 19th century English countryside are exquisitely rendered, and Cornish’s colorful costumes are nothing short of fabulous.  The director contrasts the luxe lifestyle of Cornish and her family with the squalor of Whishaw’s, in perhaps the most accurate depiction of a writer’s financial existence in recent pop culture.

As Keats, Whishaw’s quiet sensuality speaks loud and clear, and Paul Schneider, usually typecast in nice-guy roles, relishes his villainous turn as literati colleague Charles Brown.  Kerry Fox’s Mrs. Brawne is responsible for one of the film’s most moving moments: instead of relying on words or embraces to comfort a grieving Fanny, her mother simply picks up the other end of the pillowcase Fanny is stitching, and gets to work. 

The romance of “Bright Star” isn’t destined for success, but in an era when uplifting escapism is the burgeoning trend, it’s brave of Campion to end the film on a tragic note.  “Attachment is such a difficult thing to undo,” notes one character.  Indeed, “Bright Star” reminds its audience that the most beautiful love affairs are often the most brief.

DVD extras include deleted scenes and illuminating featurettes on scene and character.

Film: 5 Yaps

Extras: 4 Yaps

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