KFF: Miss Potter

The Kilgore Film Festival strikes again, and just one short semester after the last one. I don’t know what the reason is, but as this is currently the only film festival I have the pleasure of attending, you can bet I’ll be there for all of it with no complaints.

To give you an idea of the feel of Miss Potter, the last major project its director (Chris Noonan) took on was 1995’s Babe. Here again is a film that takes an unabashed pleasure in concocting the sort of scenes that prompt less cynical viewers to hug themselves with glee. The characters are so full of joy that they often have difficulty speaking through barely-supressed grins. Even when a character is irate, it often serves as comic relief.

Miss Potter stars Renée Zellweger as Beatrix Potter. Ewan McGregor is Norman Warne, her publisher and bashful but earnest inamorato (think McGregor’s character from Moulin Rouge with a ‘stache), and Emily Watson is Warne’s sister Millie. All three are top-notch performers, and they are a pleasure to watch here.

Miss Potter is a biopic of Potter’s life, after a fashion, but I almost hesitate to call it that because it seems to imply that there is a certain degree of plot involved. The movie begins in media res with Beatrix paying a visit to a publisher in 1902 to see if she can finally get The Tale of Peter Rabbit in print. This is quickly and easily accomplished, and almost before we know it she is a best-selling author and falling cutely in love with her dashing young publisher besides.

All of this is randomly interspersed with flashbacks to Beatrix’s childhood, which do little to illuminate her character beyond establishing that she had a flair for both art and storytelling even at a young age. There is really very little in the way of a story arc for almost the entire length of the movie: no rising action, no real tension or conflict, and certainly no climax.

When the happy train is eventually derailed, it happens off-screen. The ending is very abrupt and there is little in the way of resolution or closure. The story is obviously far from over, because we have not yet ascertained precisely what the story is, but all we get are a few words flashed on the screen to fill in some gaps and then the credits begin to roll.

However, despite this lack of depth, almost none of these thoughts will necessarily occur to an audience while the movie is going on. Miss Potter is sweet and full of life. It is funny and charming and very difficult to dislike. The scenery of the country scenes is breathtaking. The animation of Beatrix’s drawings as she interacts with them is fun, but not overdone. The characters may be conventional, but their familiarity makes us comfortable.

Miss Potter is a movie that wants very much to be the next Finding Neverland, and anyone who enjoyed that excellent film should certainly find a great deal to like here. However, Miss Potter ultimately lacks both meaning and substance, and although it manages a winning sentimentality without any melodrama, it fails to leave a lasting impression.

~ by Jared on April 21, 2007.

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