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Movie Review

Bright Star

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"Bright Star" centers on the passionate, albeit brief, love affair between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne before his death at age 25. But unlike the heartfelt poetry Keats deeply yearns for, director Jane Campion's visually stunning work—her first feature since the painfully awful "In the Cut"—attempts to show too much, thus not allowing the story to speak for itself. We know its there, clawing its way to the surface, but with constant location and temporal shifts in the narrative, the film loses part of the strong emotional core. The saving graces are Abbie Cornish as Brawne and Ben Whishaw as Keats; their commanding performances allow an otherwise by-the-book period romance to stand out.

At first, Brawne is not impressed with Keats, finding poetry confusing, claiming that unlike Keats and his longtime confidant, Charles Brown, she can make money off her needlework. Upon hearing Keats aids his ill younger brother, she second-guesses her initial reaction and requests poetry lessons from him. From then on, love is their poison, and they will drink every last drop.

In the vein of her Oscar-winning gem "The Piano," Campion does not rely heavily on what Keats and Brawne say to each other; rather, secret glances across the room and subtle touches of the hand are used to express their undying emotions. They were able to say so much without any words being spoken, and Campion exposes their vulnerability and puts it front and center. As you look into Brawne's eyes as she watches her beloved leave for what was the last time she would ever see him, you can feel her heart slowly breaking. Likewise, Whishaw shines as the ill-fated Keats who, financially unstable and unable to sell any of his work, finds inspiration in his fashion-forward neighbor. One scene in particular that stands out is when Keats discovers another man (Paul Schneider) has sent Fanny a valentine and Keats suspects they are in love. As Whishaw's unrelenting delivery combines with the scenery of eerie wilderness, we feel that if it were true, his heart would be shattered into a million pieces.

Unlike the complexity and raw emotion that Keats' poetry expresses, "Bright Star" suffers from episodic syndrome: It would make no difference if the film's events were placed in any other order. In that regard, the relationship feels like it never progressed but rather remained static. Furthermore, time moves on—days, weeks, even months—from scene to scene without any indication until a character explicitly says, for instance, "He's been gone for six months." It is tough to depict three years in a two-hour film, but each scene feels incomplete and cut too short. Though the film does not entirely work, the zealous performances by its two young leads definitely warrant viewers' attention.

Genre: Drama/Romance
Written and directed by: Jane Campion
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider

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