The Hours

A Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a screenplay by distinguished playwright David Hare and a powerhouse cast: Elements that look golden on paper all too often produce leaden, excessively respectful films, and the marvel of this adaptation of Michael Cunningham's highly literary The Hours is that it works as well as it does. At the same time, it's the kind of...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a screenplay by distinguished playwright David Hare and a powerhouse cast: Elements that look golden on paper all too often produce leaden, excessively respectful films, and the marvel of this adaptation of Michael Cunningham's highly literary The Hours is that it works as well as it does. At the same time, it's the kind of movie that makes you simultaneously admire the act of translation that produced it and wish you were reading the book. Three stories intertwine as each of three very different women lives a single, apparently ordinary day that contains a life-changing revelation. Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, whose working title was The Hours, is only the most obvious thread connecting the stories, which are separated by both time and location. 1923: Ensconced in suburban Richmond, Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) plans to spend the morning working on her new novel and the afternoon entertaining her sister, Vanessa Bell (Miranda Richardson), and Vanessa's three boisterous children. Virginia has already suffered two major attacks of the black depression that eventually drove her to suicide, and her doctors recommended living in a quiet backwater as a palliative for her jangled nerves. But she feels stifled, and Vanessa's uneventful visit brings into painfully sharp focus Virginia's desperate yearning for London's vibrant, inspiring turmoil. 1951: Pregnant Los Angeles housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), prepares a small birthday celebration for her husband (John C. Reilly). She wants to spend the day reading Mrs. Dalloway, but instead bakes a cake with the help of her sensitive little boy, Richie (Jack Rovello). Laura has an ambiguous encounter with a flighty neighbor (Toni Collette) and seriously considers suicide rather than endure an inchoate unhappiness so pervasive and numbing she can hardly remember life without it. 2001: New York City book editor Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) prepares a party for friend and long-ago lover Richard (Ed Harris), who's dying of AIDS and hardly cares that he's just received a prestigious poetry prize. As Clarissa hurtles through last-minute party preparations, neglecting her girlfriend (Allison Janney) and daughter (Claire Danes), a visit from an old friend (Jeff Daniels) makes her question her priorities and motives. Yes, it's sometimes hard to breathe for the sheer volume of acting sucking the air out of the room, and keeping three narratives moving without muddling them all is a hugely ambitious undertaking for any director, let alone one on his second film. Theater-trained Stephen Daldry acquits himself admirably, and the film contains some lovely grace notes courtesy of the uniformly fine actresses.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: A Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a screenplay by distinguished playwright David Hare and a powerhouse cast: Elements that look golden on paper all too often produce leaden, excessively respectful films, and the marvel of this adaptation of Michael Cunningha… (more)

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