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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review: COLETTE

The Buzz: One of this week's smaller releases, Colette is a biographical look at the life of the famous French novelist/actress/journalist and her rise to fame. Keira Knightley plays the author in the early years of her career, where she's catapulted into the French literary world through her marriage to the famed writer and music critic Henry Gauthier-Villars aka Willy (Dominic West), and is eventually enlisted into the roster of ghostwriters that are in his employ, chugging away at stories that will bear his name in exchange for needed income. Colette, in her first go, writes, under some mentorship from Willy, the Claudine sequence of novellas that become a sensation across France. With success comes immense wealth for the couple, as well as new admirers that eventually lead them down various amorous paths. Colette begins to discover new facets of her own self, while Willy aims to create a literary and media empire. It doesn't end well. This is the filmmaker Wash Westmoreland's first solo film since the passing of his husband and longtime collaborator, Richard Glatzer.

What's Great About the Movie: The script itself is a crisp affair, and often quite uproariously funny. Often stuffier biopics can drag along with a sense of overly important, almost liturgical, drama, but Westmoreland keeps things fairly light and breezy while painting both Willy and Colette as rather charming and likable protagonists; a difficult task given some of the rather underhanded deeds the former gets into, but it's a testament to the both Knightley and West, who are an imminently watchable duo who bounce off the filmmaker's dialogue with a flair and keeps with the pacing Westmoreland seems to be making one of his key goals throughout. It's a film you'll never be bored watching, despite some of its occasional tired genre trappings.

More interestingly though, it seems as if the central theses of Colette center around the concept of authorship, a central struggle for both the real life couple, as well as their big screen counterparts, as well as portraying the idea of what happens when your creation spins completely out of your control. This happens in a pair of ways that borders on quite astute: from the growth of the Claudine character and how young women emulate her to a degree that is wholly unforeseen by both Colette and Willy to how Willy attempts to shape Colette into a star all her own and she completely slips out of his grasp. That latter point also addresses Westmoreland other key area of interest, which is an examination of feminism and gender fluidity in the early turn of the 20th century. This evolution of Colette is a slowly growing, subtle shift from scene to every scene, but Knightley perfectly encapsulates this self-actualization in a performance that approaches some of the best work of her career. 

What's Not-So-Great About the Movie: As stated, it's a broad biopic, and a slightly more innovative filmmaker might have been able to avoid just a few of the tripwires that Westmoreland gets tangled in here, but as you watch, there are a number of scenes where you can easily predict what's going to happen just because you've seen films of this same stripe before (ex: "I bet he's not going to burn those book pages!"). Luckily, those moments are fewer than the usual, and while it might very well be a movie you forget about the moment you leave the theater due to its formal familiarity, it's a rather pleasant near two hours.

Final Verdict: Of everything opening this weekend in Atlanta, this is definitely the way to go. Don't expect a reinvention within the genre, but it's a strikingly fascinating story and told pretty darn well.





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