by: Eric J. Grimm
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Starring Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, and Sabrina Ferilli
I have to fully disclose that I walked out of the The Great Beauty. This, perhaps, means I should not review the film, but I would like to explain why two hours was more than enough for me and the remaining twenty-two minutes could not have possibly changed my opinion of this overcooked and intellectually barren film. If I could go back and never see it, I would be better off.
Paolo Sorrentino’s busy depiction of an admired if unprolific writer’s existential crisis starts off promisingly with vague scenes of death at a museum and an orgiastic birthday party. The first ten minutes of the film suggest that the whole piece will be free of narrative and I was excited to see how beautiful vignettes in Rome might tie together. Unfortunately, this has all been a prologue that delays introducing the film’s uninteresting protagonist, Jep (Toni Servillo). Jep is a writer and social butterfly who may or may not be a genius, but is definitely having intimacy issues with friends and lovers that betray an upper class struggle that did not move me. Servillo doesn’t make major missteps in playing Jep, though injecting a little more humanity might have compelled me to care more.
In a movie so frenzied as if to suggest that it took the Nine musical number “Be Italian!” too seriously, there are two shining elements. The movie so frequently fails to be magical, that Jep’s brief encounter with the incredible French actress Fanny Ardant, playing herself, stands out as being particularly warm and dreamy. Ardant glides in and out of the scene with one line of dialogue and endless charm in her winning smile. If the movie were made up of dazzling, strange moments like this, it would have hooked me.
Sabrina Ferilli almost saves the film as a middle-aged exotic dancer who steals Jep’s heart. The hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold plot is cheap, to be sure, but Ferilli wears discomfort, self-effacement, and a glittery flesh-colored bodysuit with an allure that made me solely interested in what happened to her. Then the character came down with an unfortunate case of “unnamed terminal illness” and I lost interest. I was certain the film would end shortly after.
Only, it didn’t. Perhaps as a muddled statement on the banality of life after loss, the film keeps chugging along at an unbearable pace. I sat for fifteen minutes watching Jep become more and more ineffectual as a focal point. Vignettes from his life were attractive, but hollow. It was like watching Baz Luhrmann take himself far too seriously. I had seen enough. There was no possible outcome that would make me linger. If I wanted to watch a whimsical portrait of Italian artists, I’d rewatch any of Fellini’s great works. The Great Beauty is like 8 ½ minus at least 8.