|Girl With A Pearl Earring
2003 - PG-13 - 95 Mins.
|Director: Peter Webber
|Producer: Anand Tucker
|Written By: Olivia Hetreed
|Starring: Colin Firth, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Wilkinson, Judy Parfitt, Cillian Murphy
|Review by: Harrison Cheung
|Official Site: www.girlwithapearlearringmovie.com/
A fancy pedigree, classy cast, and even the luminous Scarlett Johansson (‘Lost in Translation’, ‘Ghost World’) can’t save ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ from being a dull and unlikely drama about one of painter Johannes Vermeer’s most famous works. Based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier, both the film and the book imagine a back-story behind the creation of the painting. Vermeer (Colin Firth), a 17th century painter, relies on a wealthy patron – Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson) – for commissions. Vermeer’s wife, Catherina (Essie Davis), hires a chaste poor girl, Griet (Johansson), as the new maid. When Vermeer sees Griet’s wide-eyed high-cheekboned beauty, he immediately becomes obsessed. As luck would have it, Van Ruijven also spots Griet. He commissions a painting of her but Vermeer tries to do the painting in private to spare his wife’s feelings of neglect and jealousy.
Vermeer being a prick.
Though the film tries to be an intriguing drama about a poor girl caught in the middle of lust and social politics, as adapted, you end up with a simplified story of Griet as muse. The poor illiterate girl teaches Vermeer a thing or two about painting composition and color balance. Of course that impresses Vermeer even more and adds to his fascination. Meanwhile, the Vermeer family’s fortune depends on future work from the vulgar Van Ruijven who treats his commission of a painting of Griet no more than a 17th century version of a dirty picture. In fact, the funniest thing about ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ is how vulgar and perverted both Van Ruijven and Vermeer are portrayed. In an era before photography, I guess waiting 2 or 3 months for a painting was your only option to get your jollies from a pretty picture.
Colin Firth has mastered the cantankerous eccentric. In ‘Pearl’, his Vermeer is a recluse, forbidding his wife and family from his attic studio. But as he lingers over Griet washing the windows, Firth suddenly becomes dirty old man and awkward artist. When he insists that Griet pierce her ears to wear the titular pearl earrings, she first refuses. Vermeer demands that she look at the painting in progress, “Look at it! Tell me yourself.” And amazingly, Griet looks at the painting and realizes that the painting *needs* her to wear earrings so she sacrifices her virgin ears for the sake of art.
There are a number of unintentionally funny scenes. Corseted in a period drama, Scarlett Johansson resorts to the Angelina Jolie school of acting – open-mouthed air breather with minimal facial expressions. In case the audience gets bored with the older cast, we also have Cillian Murphy (‘28 Days’) as her love interest. (Dressed as a cute little Dutch boy, Murphy bore an uncanny resemblance to Lord Farquaad from 'Shrek'.) And to give the slow-moving movie a couple of villains, we have Vermeer’s rude, snobby daughter, Cornelia, played to icy perfection by Alakina Mann (‘The Others’) and a dragon lady of a mother-in-law played by British classical actress Judy Parfitt.
‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ is a beautiful film to look at. No surprise - cinematography is intentionally reminiscent of Vermeer paintings. Ever see Peter Greenaway’s ‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover’? It’s similarly sumptuous. It's also an interesting glimpse into 17th century life. But the direction plods and there are numerous scenes of slow pans as Griet nervously waits for a door to open across the room. ‘The Red Violin’ was a far more interesting movie about a fictional historical back-story.
What a shame that ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ wasn’t in the hands of a more dynamic director and a more credible screenplay. Director Peter Webber is a relative newcomer, having cut his teeth in British television. Screenwriter Olivia Hetreed is another newbie from the television world. ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ is one of those fancy prestigious costume dramas that feels 3 hours long and collects art direction award nominations. Unfortunately, it’s a film that will put audiences to sleep.