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Jane Eyre (2011)

March 28, 2011

VERDICT:
8/10 Independent Women

A solid adaptation of one of the all-time greats.

Jane Eyre is the story of an orphan growing up in 19th Century England. She gets rejected by her wicked aunt and sent to a hard-knock, all-girls boarding school where she spends the next eight years of her life. Once she comes of age, she takes on the position of governess for a young French girl at a nearby estate. During her stay, she finds herself increasingly acquainted with the master of the house who is nearly twice her age but kindred in spirit. As their semi-relationship begins to blossom and strange happenings start popping up at every turn, our girl eventually finds herself at a crossroads where she must choose between her happiness and self-respect as a woman of her own being.

So when it comes to 19th Century period pieces, my gut reaction usually leans towards “Hell-effing-no.” Those are the stories that made me regret being an English major in college whenever I walked into Brit. Lit. I and II, those are the movies that made me kick myself for thinking that Bright Star was gonna be some epiphany of sorts on the matter ’cause I heard some off-hand comment about Quentin Tarantino giving it the thumbs up. Bad calls all around and I still wish I’d been an American Studies major. I like to think that the Old English is to blame for a lot of why this sub-genre of sorts tends be one of the few that I’m not all too open-minded about, but what can I say other than that I’ve given it many a shot and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not my thing.

But for some reason I ended up being the one who asked my fiancee to go check this out and here I am giving it an 8. Why the change of heart? Well, it’s probably because I actually read the damn book for once instead of CliffsNoting it like the lazy bastard I was in college, found out right quick that I loved the damn book and couldn’t put it down, and kicked myself once again for ever writing it off as chick lit even though it was one of my mom’s all-time favorite books. Folks, always listen to mom.

Although, with that being said, director Cary Fukanaga and writer Moira Buffini definitely had a tall order bringing this to the big screen. But let’s start with what they do well.

First off, this movie is effing gorgeous. Filmed on location in and around various castles, -shires, and shrubberies in the English countryside, it’s breathtaking to soak in from a visual standpoint. Right from the get-go where Jane is wandering aimlessly through fields of grass and stone at sunset, to scenes where the camera just follows her around as she walks through the castle grounds and gardens, I really felt transported to another time and another world just by the natural beauty that surrounds every last detail. That Fukunaga’s sure got an eye, doesn’t hurt that the orchestral score he’s working with is gorgeous as well, and the mood they both create is dead-on.

The thing about the story of Jane Eyre is that the meat of it tends to be about the romance between Jane and Rochester, but for me, that’s only part of it. What really drew me in about the novel and separated it from something that, say, Jane Austen would write was the mystery and mysticism that spruced up this rags-to-riches love story into something that at times closer resembles a horror novel of sorts. And whether it’s the faded color tones, the multitude of scenes that are lit only by one or two candle lights or the way the fog always seems to be rolling in whenever someone steps outside, Fukanaga captures this vibe to a tee. It was an extremely important element to get right, and had it not been included or had the mark been missed completely, this would have been a disappointment.

And playing Jane is Mia Wasikowska in her best performance to date, which is kind of a big deal considering 2010 was the freakin’ year for Mia Wasikowska. I really admire that they actually cast someone who was the right age to play Jane, not just because I’m dead tired of Hollywood trying to convince us that Rachel McAdams could swing it as a high school Senior, but because it’s true to the character and it adds so much more to the performance. One of the great things about Jane is that despite her outward appearance, she’s years beyond her age and bears the wisdom and maturity that most twice her senior couldn’t fathom. So when Wasikowska brings that to the forefront and brings it hard, it shouldn’t take long to realize that she’s just what the role calls for and then some. Man, why can’t impressionable young woman have more heroes like Jane to look up to these days? I don’t know where or when it was that we lost the memo, but even as a guy, it makes me ecstatic to see a strong, intelligent female character like this who doesn’t have to act like a guy to gain the respect of those around her and stands up for her convictions even when it’s expected of her to behave otherwise. A conversation for another day, but, yeah, Jane rocks and so does Wasikowska.

And the great Michael Fassbender is just that as Jane’s employer, Edward Rochester. Dude is continuing to do an awesome job of getting people to remember who he is and he really does a swell job with the character. Rochester’s a complex fella’ and Fassbender plays him opposite Wasikowska like a boss. Damn, that guy is cool.

But as good as these two are, they are far too good-looking to be playing these characters. Jane and Rochester aren’t exactly anyone’s idea of eye candy in the novel, so I don’t know how Wasikowska and Fassbender got picked out with that fact in mind. Not that I’m complaining because, again, they’re both great, but those two are lookers if you ask me…especially Fassbender, and I am as hetero as can be when I say that.

But as much as I liked the acting, the direction and the tone, I was really close to giving this a 7. As weird as it may sound, things were just moving too fast for me here. Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I actually would have liked another hour tacked onto this. It’s not that it feels rushed or anything, it’s just a combination of my wanting to spend more time getting to know Jane and Rochester simply because they’re such incredible characters and also because of the constraint that comes with cramming a novel like this into a 120-page script. Major plot points come around pretty quickly, and while they don’t come out of the blue, some extra buildup would have been nice and some extra attention could have been paid to Jane’s earlier years when she was getting tricked instead of treated. But with the exception of some back stories, midnight hauntings, and a scene where Rochester dresses up as a gypsy woman, there’s not much left out plot-wise, so that’s a definite plus.

Not quite sure why the film flashes back and forth between the beginning and middle of the story during the first 15 minutes or so, but whatever, it’s easy enough to overlook and it does work in terms of drawing the audience in.

But despite its shortcomings that might only be present because I’m such a big fan of the source material, Jane Eyre is still a really good movie that seemed very much envisioned by a crew that were also big fans of the source material. It really is a phenomenal character study of a woman that’s rightfully earned herself one of the top-ranking spots in the pantheon of female role models, and aside from that, it’s a wonderfully sincere romance that stands the test of time and doesn’t feel dated despite its surroundings. And kudos to an absolutely perfect ending. Was wondering all along how this was gonna get wrapped up and I couldn’t have imagined a more brilliantly subtle way for it to have gone out. Well played, Moira Buffini.

God, I love that book.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. Aimée V. permalink
    March 29, 2011 3:19 pm

    Did you ever get to see the 1944 version with Orson Welles as Rochester? Damn, I fell in love with the man. Such a great actor. It’s in black and white, so the weird atmosphere is spot-on with an expressionist look. In fact, I love it so much that I can’t bring myself to watch another one, but you might just have convinced me to try this one.

    • May 2, 2011 3:59 pm

      Never caught that but heard good things. And after that kinda praise, I don’t know what’s taking me. Will report back one of these days and thanks for the heads up!

  2. March 29, 2011 5:36 pm

    I envy you Aiden, screenings of films I’ve been anticipating a while.

    Great review. I was on the fence before now, but I’ll be seeing this opening night.

    • May 2, 2011 4:00 pm

      Haha. Thanks, man. Yeah, one of the many perks of NY living. Almost makes up for those damn rent checks.

  3. April 1, 2011 1:23 pm

    More than anything it’s Fukunaga’s involvement that piques my interest. To go from Sin Nombre to Jane Eyre feels like a pretty massive leap, both in terms of the disparity between the stories and in terms of how small potatoes the former is compared to the latter. Solid review, and I’m really hoping to check this out myself.

    • May 2, 2011 4:01 pm

      Yeah, I still haven’t seen Sin Nombre, but definitely a funky choice, huh? He does a damn good job though, definitely worth a watch.

  4. April 4, 2011 12:06 am

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this one Aiden and hats off for reading and liking the book as well. Your fiancee and mom should be proud 🙂 Not sure if you’ve read my review yet, but I feel the same way about you about the direction, though it’s great, it felt way too fast for me. Not exactly Fukunaga’s fault as it’s tough to really contain Jane Eyre into a feature length film. That’s why I felt that the BBC miniseries captured what the story better as it gave a proper time for the characters to fully develop and connect. Still, given its limitation, it’s still impressive. As for the cast, the screen adaptations usually made the mistake of casting people who are too good looking, but for me, as long as they can capture the essence of the characters, all is well. As much as I adore Fassbender though, he still isn’t my favorite Rochester, that would be Timothy Dalton.

    • May 2, 2011 4:03 pm

      Hahaha. Oh, they’re glowing with pride alright. And why am I not surprised that you’d pick Dalton over Fassbender?

  5. HermioneO permalink
    April 4, 2011 2:48 pm

    I was gonna say .. hey, didja check out the one with Tinothy Dalton? I don’t think I can this weekend but next …

    • May 2, 2011 4:03 pm

      Haha. One of these days. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already, good stuff.

  6. April 4, 2011 6:02 pm

    WHOA! All I have to say is…I AM IMPRESSED YOU READ THE BOOK.

    Quite unexpected…as is the film.

    It reminded me a bit of Bright Star too. I typically don’t like this “stuff” – but both of these films are very good.

    • May 2, 2011 4:05 pm

      Hahaha. Yeah, I know. Figured this was one of those instances where I’d be cheating myself out of the full experience if I didn’t read up beforehand. Glad I did, too.

      Bright Star was instantly forgettable for me, but I can appreciate how it’d be right up someone else’s alley. God, Jane Eyre just rocks, man.

  7. Elsa permalink
    April 8, 2011 12:44 pm

    Hi, read your review. Reading the book would help many who go to see this film I think. Not much to say except the biggest issue with this movie is that others films and TV versions (esp. Rochesters – Orson Welles, Timothy Dalton, Toby Stephens and even William Hurt) stayed true to the intensity of the novel and its characters’s nature – something I really did not sense with this version. Unfortunately, because not enough time was dedicated to developing the characters (I agree, an hour 1/2 would have helped) and to showing the chemistry of their interactions, the viewer is left with a bland distorted image of the story – so much was missing. No true tension is seen with regards to various dynamics, temptation vs fidelity, secrets vs truths, independence vs security, Grecian vs Morose (a novel’s joke), Dark/Sexy verse Puritan/Clean etc. An argument such as there was not enough time to illustrate these interplays may suffice but there are too many theatrical devices and adaptations that assert the opposite. I would also like to add that it was an insult to Michael Fassbender’s talent not to give him the opportunity to explore the darkest/deadliest corners of Rochester’s psyche along with the struggle to be free of past demons and mistakes – I say this because I am a fan of the man and he is capable e.g. HEX, Hunger, Angel. Most persons who adore the book and read it in the past five years or so have commented on the missing elements. Others seem to doubt Wasikowska’s ability to bring forth a mature, complex yet seeking character. I mostly blame the script and some of the direction and it is true that you cannot cram everything in a movie. But selection is key. Jamie Bell was good and Judith Dench of course was perfect, not only because of her acting ability but her intimate knowledge of the character, history and culture of time (check out her other historical pieces). I would say thank you for your review most review lately are afraid to mention the failings only the achievements.

    • May 2, 2011 4:08 pm

      Thanks! Much appreciated. Yeah, if you’ve read the book it’s easy to pick out everything that got left out, but with such a short running time, what can you do? Still, thought the cast was solid even if they didn’t get to flesh out and develop the characters as much as I would have liked. Being such a big fan of book, I was just happy not being disappointed by the whole thing.

      And thanks for visiting!

  8. Beth Chamberlain permalink
    October 1, 2011 1:41 pm

    I have read Jane Eyre about 20 times (at least) and have real resistance to movies that try to capture this book. I LOVED this review, however, and agree with it 100% I think I have read at least 30 reviews so far, and this is the best. Aiden, YOU have got it. Bless you.

    • October 1, 2011 7:16 pm

      Hahaha. Thanks so much! I knew I had to read the book before seeing this, and it probably helped that I ended up loving the book so much. It’s too bad the only way to truly capture Jane Eyre is to make a 10 hour movie of Jane and Rochester courting each other, but since that will never happen, this definitely suffices. Too bad there aren’t more people on our bandwagon, Beth, because we most certainly know where it’s at. Thanks for stopping by and don’t be a stranger!

  9. January 10, 2012 11:48 pm

    I’m like you. I have my problems with period pieces like that. But I also wanted to see this, as these movies often also tend to feed my romantic needs. I also thought this should have been an hour longer, for the same reason you are pointing out.

    • February 6, 2012 11:19 am

      Yeah, should have been an HBO mini-series or something along those lines. Even so, still thought it was a pretty impressive adaptation of one hell of a book.

  10. February 11, 2012 7:41 pm

    Wow what a review

  11. February 25, 2012 4:24 pm

    I saw the BBC version before this one, and thought this was a worse copy of it.
    It’s not terrible, but the BBC version is far superior and it really seems like they copied some stuff and left out really great things.

    • March 23, 2012 11:41 am

      Never saw the BBC version. Was it way longer? A two-hour runtime is not enough to do justice to Jane Eyre, even if I did really like this.

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