The Girl With The Pearl Earring (7/10)

Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley

There was a much-lauded movie earlier this year, Lost in Translation that I thought was pretty average except for one exceptional performance. Everyone else was drooling over Bill Murray’s performance as a bored middle-aged guy in Japan. But even I could have directed Murray in this role. “OK,” I’d say, “Bill, wake up. Look bored. Action!” It didn’t take any genius to direct or to act.

OK, OK, Murray did a good job of what was required of him. But it was his co-star, 19-year old Scarlett Johannson, who was startling. She really had to act. What a talent! For me she stole the show.

Girl With A Pearl Earring is equally slow. But Johannnson’s performance in the title role as Griet exceeds her performance in Lost in Translation. Unlike the latter, in Girl she’s in almost every scene (why Colin Firth gets top billing is a mystery). She plays a maid in the household of legendary painter Johannes Vermeer (Firth) in 1665 when he chose her to be the model for one of his most famous paintings. The film is adapted from the novel by Tracy Chevalier, and it captures life in 17th Century Amsterdam believably.

Vermeer is shown as a weak autocrat in his matriarchal home where his mother seems to rule the roost. Directed by Peter Webber in the style of a, well, a Vermeer painting, the film would be of only average interest but for the exceptional Johannson. Her performance as an attractive young woman forced to work as a servant with virtually no rights, who has to fight off a lecherous patron of Vermeer, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), and deal with the jealousies of the people living in Vermeer’s household, as well as the attention of Vermeer himself, is brilliant. And she’s only 19 years old!

If I weren’t already on the bandwagon for Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan for Oscars for their performances in Freaky Friday, I’d throw my hat in Johannson’s ring. But since the dopes who voted for Nicole Kidman last year in a putrid, politically correct, single issue movie (The Hours) for a role that couldn’t have had 30 lines (and required nothing exceptional from Kidman other than wearing a prosthetic nose and giving her sister a sexual kiss) over the Renée Zellweger performance of a lifetime in Chicago still have a majority, I’d say that not one of these three ladies has a chance to win well-deserved Oscars. My bet is that since they apparently gave the Oscar last year to Kidman when she clearly didn’t deserve it because they thought she deserved it the year before, they’ll probably give the Oscar this year to Zellweger, if nominated, since she clearly deserved it last year. Too bad the voters don’t know and reward exceptional acting when they see it and when it’s deserved.

December 26, 2003