Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hugo (2011)


Hugo has everything you need to make a classic movie that critics will eat up like kids at a candy store. You've got a director everyone admires, a cast full of solid character actors, a story about a child's coming of age, and to top it all off it's a throwback film to the dawn of cinema itself. Don't even get me started on the beautiful Paris setting, the amazing set designs, and the inclusion of one of my favorite directors of all time. So why is it that I couldn't shake the desire to pull a Maxwell Smart and say "missed it by that much" the second the credits started to roll?

I've spent a long time mulling it all over. Why didn't a film with everything I'd want in a movie not end up being everything I wanted in a movie? After all, I did everything exactly the way I'd always dreamed of doing it. I kept my knowledge of the film's plot low. I read minimal reviews. I didn't let any positive or negative hype impact me. I kept my expectations perfectly in check. I went into this film in a manner I wish I went into every film. But in the words of Jake Holman "what the hell happened?"

Hugo is a very good film. It is the kind of very good film you wish you could get more people to want to see. Not only because it is good but because it has the ability to open people up to something that so many of them vehemently close themselves off to. It longs to bring out the passionate nostalgia in any moviegoer, and inspire those who have historically remained in the dark. And it interweaves the history of film around the tale of an orphan child wonderfully.

Yet throughout the film I failed to create an earnest connection with any of the core characters. Despite all the sentimentality laden throughout, Hugo often felt as if it settled for melodrama when honest drama would have been more than enough. No more so than in the dealings with the film's titular character, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield - greatest name ever?).

On multiple occasions I found myself rolling my eyes during the first act of the film as the foundation for our connection with Hugo is built. At first I didn't think much of it, but as the film continued, the plot unfolded, and I started to see the world around Hugo expand, I began to realize just how tough that missed connection made enjoying the film. After all, each main character - in their own way - is an extension of the base Hugo caricature.

Each of them is longing for something missing in their life. Most ostensibly this is found in the form of their place in the greater part of the functioning world, but more immediately they long for family, romance, escape, and the past. A remembrance of better times and a hope for more of them. The basic components of life so many of us take for granted in our everyday dealings with one another. These are holes left unfilled for many of these characters and Hugo's journey provides each of them - himself most of all - the opportunity to attain the very thing, or things, they're missing.

Without that heavy bond with Hugo, the entire tale at large is difficult to bond with. The scenes are there but my heart was never with them. From Papa Georges missing past to Isabelle's (Hermione Granger Lite) adventure seeking to the Station Inspector's effective representation of a future Hugo without those around him. All of the pieces were there but the puzzle never felt complete. So when it came time for my fellow movie goers to whip out a Kleenex and dab away the welling in their eyes, I found myself clean dry.

Hugo has a lot going for it, and those capable of latching onto the characters will likely find the journey rewarding of the highest order. For my own part, I found myself wrapped up in the world but fighting an uphill battle for the characters. On balance I still recommend it, but for now my appreciation for it outweighs my enjoyment of it.

Overall Score:7.50

Film Credits:
Directed by Martin Scorcese
Written by John Logan
Based on the Novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick

9 better thoughts:

John said...

I think that's a very, very accurate review. The movie is missing something. Mind you, that didn't keep me from loving it for a lot of reasons. But there's some ingredient missing. I suppose it could be that Scorsese isn't that familiar with the dopey saccharine kids movie and so it lacked that type of emotion.

Other than that, I thought it was as perfect as could be. The 3D visuals blew me away, the movie nerd in me loved the story (and seeing all of the clips of classic films... Safety Last and The General on a big screen!), the story was structurally sound...

Mike Lippert said...

This movie is a masterpiece for me. That's all I'll say as I haven't published my review yet.

Univarn said...

@John Thanks! I think there were just plenty of scenes where facial expressions would have done the way rather than the eventual dialogue. For instance, the scene where the Station Insepector is first going to talk to the flow girl but his leg squeaks and you can just see the embarassment and frustration on his face. More of that would have been perfect.

@Mike I certaintly don't think you're alone in that opinion. Will keep an eye out for your review!

MrJeffery said...

this doesn't look like my kind of film at all. but curious to see what marty does with it.

ruth said...

Great review Uni. I'm hoping to see this tomorrow and not being all too familiar w/ Scorsese's work I don't really know what to expect, which can be a good thing.

Castor said...

This movie didn't quite work for me either. While it will please most cinephile and critics out there due to its connection with filmmaking itself, I'm not sure it quite works as a family film.

I liked the movie overall but found it to be somewhat of a drag throughout. It could definitely have been paced more efficiently. The characters, especially the kids, aren't all that compelling as you noted.

Aziza said...

I personallly loved it! I couldn't find anything wrong with it, in any way, but I do understand what you are trying to say about the characters! It is still a very good movie!

Dan said...

Perhaps not the glowing recommendation I was hoping for but to be honest I didn't expect reviews of Goodfellas proportions. I haven't seen the film yet but it does look like a fabulously good time and Scorsese's films are almost always worthy even when they aren't up to the standards of his greatest works.

Really good read Univarn...thanks for this.

Univarn said...

@Jeffery I wouldn't be so quick to write it off on my word alone as there's a lot here to admire and I only concentrate on a few aspects. There's quite a bit here for everyone and that may be part of its problem.

@Ruth Thanks for the comment, I definitely think knowing less is best for this sort of film.

@Castor I read your review and it definitely sounds like we're riding the same wavelength on this one.

@Aziza One thing I am curious about is how it will play out on a second viewing. By that I mean since I know where it's going, I wonder if the first half will have any greater impact. As I really felt that's where the film was lacking focus and direction.

@Dan Thanks for the kind words. It's definitely worth the price of admission, but how much of that admission it's worth will depend on how well you connect with what the movie is trying to do.

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