I’m going to be honest: this was just not at all the sort of film that I would have gone to see on my own. Mostly because the genre just isn’t my taste. I had heard many of my friends talking about it, and knew that there was quite some buzz about it. I heard others discussing it, obviously purists, and thought that this must be what others feel like when I review a film from the superhero genre.
I’ll keep up the honesty. I went only because, on a Friday afternoon with an unexpected offer by the grandparents to watch our daughter, Karen announced that she had really been wanting to see it, and asked if I would get tickets. This really is her genre, so I was into going just because she wanted to go. She, after all, sits through many superhero movies with me. Initially, that was my sole motivator.
Continuing honesty: I’m not a fan of Angelina Jolie. Like, at all.
The final injection of honesty? I was absolutely astounded by this film.
You see, Disney did the literary landscape no favors by making fairy tales the stories that we’ve come to know. The tales originally penned by the Brothers Grimm and the like were more akin to horror stories than to “happily ever after” romances, and, honestly, the Sleeping Beauty story that I heard a child was quite…well, yawn-inducing. Maleficent, however, is no fairy tale. This film is a faerie tale, obvious from the first appearance of the protagonist on the screen. Even as a little girl, Maleficent’s appearance is striking, foreboding, her power obvious. Happy endings are not the goal of this film. The realism, rather, is gritty, the parallels to modern events too striking to avoid, not the least of which is the date rape metaphor. No flat characters exist in this story. One cannot neatly categorize them as the good or the bad. The character whom we expect to be the villain is the character with whom we find ourselves empathizing, understanding her emotions and motivations, if not her actions. The character that looks to be the heroic, upstanding and innocent victim of evil is the one who is wretched, twisted, and whom we find deserving of our disgust. This film is violent. This film is real. This film, like life, provides no easy answers, eschewing black and white and letting the audience wrestle through uncertain shades of grey. Perhaps because I’m more than a bit rusty on the tale as I knew it, and certainly on the story as it was originally written, I could see some liberties taken (most notably in the nature of the curse Maleficent casts on Aurora), but was far too busy being taken on the journey of the film to be put off by these. Either it was that beautifully written, or I’m not much a purist in the genre, or both. In either case, all of the pieces of the plot fit together perfectly at the end of my hour and a half in the theatre.
Jolie’s performance is stunning. Her pace never falters, her delivery is never less than perfect. The visual alterations in Maleficent as we walk through the gamut of her emotional experience are subtle enough to nearly miss at times, while jarring in their effect on the viewer’s psyche. This woman, innocent and lovely, becomes terrifying and dark, and the transformation is beautifully accomplished by Jolie’s acting, as well as the direction and design. I haven’t seen a movie put together this well in some time.
So many threads weave their way through this movie, driven by a complex, brilliant, and strong woman at the forefront. For what is perhaps the first time that I can recall, this genre has been taken seriously and placed on the screen unapologetically, wonderfully raw, real, and redemptive. The ending is not contrived, not stereotyped. That prince-rescuing-the-damsel-with-true-love nonsense? No, not here. There is something much, much more beautiful awaiting you at the end of this film.
This isn’t a movie to which you take your children. This is a movie, though, that you must go see. You will not look at the story of your childhood as you once did. You will ask important questions after you do. A terrific story, after all, enriches it’s audience, leaves you better than you went in.
Go see Maleficent. You will be enriched.