“Goldfinch” movie reviewed by one reader and one moviegoer

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More stories from Mimi Jeandheur

Cameron Iizuka

More stories from Cameron Iizuka

New counselor Sina Wibstad
September 30, 2019

Mimi’s review (The Reader): 

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt was 2013’s literary breakout star. It won a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, shortlisted for several book circles and spent over 30 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Despite its obvious success, critics’ acclaim for the novel was far from unanimous. People questioned whether it was deserving of its reputation as such an esteemed work of art, and the book became quite controversial among its audience. For me, the book was a masterpiece of powerful narrative and gorgeous prose. Now, history repeats itself with this year’s release of a movie adaptation of the book. With such polarizing reviews, it seems natural to wonder how “The Goldfinch” lands for those who have read the book versus those who haven’t.

I walked into the theater extremely wary of the fact that this movie could’ve been terrible. The trailer for “The Goldfinch” came out only weeks after I finished reading the novel last spring, and my anticipation for the film adaptation had only built up over the summer. The cast and crew seemed promising; John Crowley, director of “Brooklyn,” was leading the operation, and all teasers and interviews heavily advertised their more renowned cast members, including Nicole Kidman, Ansel Elgort and Jeffery Wright.

All the articles leading up to its release was talking about how the movie would either go on to win every Academy Award during Oscar season, or crash and burn in the box office without leaving behind so much as a painting in the rubble. I find that the movie’s fate fits neither of these scenarios. Much of what I anticipated for this movie (beautiful cinematography, outstanding acting) was all present. I can truthfully say that I always believed what I was watching on screen. However, the effect the film had on me was much less than what I had hoped for. Instead of bawling unrestrainedly during pivotal scenes, I was in a constant state welled eyes and a tensed jaw. Press down on my eyelid at any point in the two and a half hours of the movie’s runtime, and a tear would roll down my cheek, but I experienced no emotional summit which left me feeling drained but a little unsatisfied leaving the theater. It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly held this movie back from making me a blubbering mess. As I said before, almost every element of the film can be seen individually and objectively as up to par. But somewhere along the way, enough of what makes Donna Tartt’s writing so impassioned was lost that the movie felt suppressed.

However, that doesn’t mean “The Goldfinch” wasn’t an extremely polished, carefully thought out and devoted film. It’s commitment to recreating the book scene for scene was extremely honorable. I only saw one montage in the entire movie, a couple minutes devoted to a cross country greyhound bus trip, and it was over. One element of the film that I didn’t expect to be as wonderful as it was was the soundtrack. All I am able to say about it was that I loved it.

“The Goldfinch” was not everything that I dreamed it would be. But in no way do I think it was the great flop that people were building it up to be either. I thought that the nonlinear retelling of the novel was the right choice to make; the movie isn’t completely straight in its storytelling anyway. And I found letting all those gorgeous visuals and sounds surround me in the theater was two plus hours well spent. (Actually, it was about five hours because I saw the movie twice.)

In the end, I don’t think the efforts of the cast and crew were in vain. If you read the novel and enjoyed it, its film adaptation is worth watching. 

 

Cameron’s review (The Moviegoer):

Entering with the biased notion that this film only had 34 percent rotten on Rotten Tomatoes (it’s even lower now), I didn’t have high hopes for the recent Donna Tartt adaptation movie “The Goldfinch.” Then I remembered that Ansel “Baby Driver” Elgort is in the film, and I felt a sense of peace. Regardless, I was looking forward to this movie. Being a Tartt fan myself, I certainly enjoy her writing style, although I have never read her novel “The Goldfinch,” and may not ever after this film. I don’t like being the type of reviewer who gives honest, but boring reviews, but I think I must for the sake of this film because it was just fine. 

The story was simple enough: boy goes to museum with mom, mom dies, boy lives with family friend, boy lives with estranged father, boy runs away, boy becomes man by events that I cannot explain for the sake of preserving the “twist.” It seemed easy for a normie like me to follow. But upon actually watching the movie, not just browsing through synopses on wikipedia.com, it seemed like there was a lot missing. Instead of focusing on its simple premise and going after one or two themes to neatly portray the story, the filmmakers tried to replicate the book and go after a mishmash of the entire thing. Just to give a taste as to how many themes there are, I’ll list a few: love, broken home, abuse, loss of innocence, drugs, depression, fatal flaws, identity and family. In their own right, when developed, any one of these ideas would’ve been interesting to watch unfold, but the presence of all of them (and more) was a trainwreck. The cutting back and forth in time, from young Theo (Oakes Fegley) to older Theo (Ansel Elgort), wasn’t so much as an issue as to jumping between ideas they tried to build. For a solid 30 minutes, one idea would be developed and then suddenly switch to something else, never really finalizing the story, even until the end. 

And in regards to the ending… boy was that a shame. The entire movie was building a certain amount of tension around the Goldfinch painting that plays a key role in the “main” plot, but then suddenly everything goes wrong, only for it to correct itself and everything to be fine again. It was so redundant that by the time I was watching the closing scene with a big flashback to key moment in Theo’s life, I had no connection whatsoever to the characters or any sense of reality. 

I was taking notes on my phone during the movie, to the dismay of Mimi, but I thought it was fine because there were FOUR PEOPLE in the movie theater. Granted this was a late showing, but honestly, four people?! Not to say I wasn’t invested in it, but I can’t say I really wasn’t. These notes certainly show my apathy. Among them were comments on the “cronches” of the grilled cheese sandwich the characters were eating, how “everybody’s mom is dead” in the film, and a meme I thought about that said “When you only have bread and sugar as a snack.” There were other single-phrased notes like “mess,” “disappointing 3rd act,” and “psycho gun,” so while incoherent, these notes also allude to my mental state while watching the film.

Keep in mind I entered this film looking for not much, and I got it. Certainly there were cool moments with the cinematography and score (if you’re a film snob like me), but overall the lack of a cohesive theme, idea, or narrative, made me feel disinterested and disengaged. I wouldn’t recommend.