It was with trepidation that I started watching The Hours. I had just finished the book and had heard, for years, about how good the movie was from my best friend and my sister, who had never actually read The Hours. But I picked up the book earlier this year--it was on sale at B&N--and I loved it. It served as a re-introduction to Woolf for me (I had read some of Mrs. Dalloway when I was thirteen, but didn't really like it), and I suppose this may be blasphemous, but The Hours made me pick up and finish Mrs. Dalloway.
The Hours follows the entwined lives of three women: a modern-day Clarissa Dalloway, a housewife reading Clarissa Dalloway in post-World-War II suburbia, and finally, Clarissa Dalloway's creator herself, Virginia Woolf.
Michael Cunningham's Pulitizer-Prize-winning novel is better than its movie adaptation--but the movie itself is about as good as movie adaptations get. Stephen Daldry has remained true to the source material and I doubt that fans of the novel will be disappointed. It is well-shot, well-written, well-scored, well-lit, well-designed, well-acted; all in all, a heart-breaker of a film, from start to finish.
Meryl Streep is luminous (but isn’t she always? What can’t that woman do, seriously?) and I feel like she really gets the essence of Clarissa, both Dalloway and Vaughn down…she flits from scene to scene like a butterfly, and yet when she breaks down, she breaks down. She gets the lightness and quiet despair of the novel better than either Moore or Kidman.
Julianne Moore is gorgeous (but isn’t she always?) and she pulls off the fragile, extremely depressed Laura Brown well. I was slightly terrified watching her, because throughout the majority of the film, she truly conveys the sense that she is a woman on the verge of collapse; that at any given moment, she could shatter into a million little pieces, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t be able to put her together again.
Nicole Kidman tries. She tries really hard (for Nicole Kidman), and while I don’t think she completely succeeds, I think she went farther than where she usually goes, and I think that is why the Academy gave her Best Actress. Kidman gives a good performance; it just happens to be a performance that is somewhat stereotypical. She gets the very British dryness of Woolf down, but can’t grasp the passion and feeling of Woolf, not even in the train station scene. Still, Nicole Kidman tries and her effort is worth watching.
The supporting cast is very solid; surprisingly Claire Danes did not annoy me (I usually can’t stand her), and Ed Harris as Richard was also terrifying to watch, because he was so clearly on the edge and half-way gone. It is the boy Richard, played by Jack Rovello, though, who is astounding.
The look of the film is gorgeous--the lighting is superb and the color palette seems muted but is pleasing to the eye. The most visually stunning scene is unfortunately already given away in the trailer--Julianne Moore lying on a bed, river water rushing up to engulf her--but it is still great to watch. Philip Glass's soundtrack is haunting, and like other reviewers said before me, it ties the three narratives neatly together.
I want to say that overall, the film adaptation of The Hours was delicate--and I am well aware of the negative feminist connotation of the word--and yet it was delicate. It was delicate but razor-edged all at once, as its original source material is.
For a movie which deals so heavily with depression and suicide, it isn't a depressing experience--it is extraordinarily sad and poignant, but it is also clear-cut and truthful--The Hours, like Mrs. Dalloway, shows life, in all its fragility, in all its heartache, in all its light, in all its darkness, and in all its beauty.