Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Grumpy Review: The King's Speech
My biggest fear going to see The King's Speech was that I was going to see it as a good movie just because everyone else says that it's a good movie. Sometimes I'll find myself buying into the hype of a movie and not taking it at face value. But then again, I'm also the type of asshole who winds up hating something precisely because everyone else thinks it's great. Glee, for example, is an extended gimmick that has officially run it's course.. There Will Be Blood is about as entertaining as a dental appointment. And Arrested Development was canceled because even though every cooler than thou TV connoisseur can't stop singing its praises, nobody seemed to actually watch the fucking show.
The King's Speech, however, is a case of a movie being heavily touted simply because it's a fantastic movie that deserves to be recognized. There is nothing terribly complex or sophisticated about the plot. Colin Firth plays King George VI, a member of the royal family who finds himself thrust into England's most prominent role while dealing with a lifelong stammering problem. Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who tries to help him overcome his disability. If absolutely everything else about this movie was terrible, it would still be worth watching it for the performances by Firth and Rush.
Firth sets the tone of the movie in an opening scene that is, at least for me, excruciating to watch. Bertie, as he's called by his family, is asked to give a speech to a large crowd of his countrymen. As the crowd grows quiet, Bertie tries to get started, but stammers so badly that he can't even get a single word out. As someone who is terrified of public speaking, I almost couldn't watch.
Rush starts the movie in almost the exact opposite scenario. As a speech therapist and amateur thespian, Lionel has a way with words, but no one really cares to watch him speak. His biggest audience when he recites Shakespeare is usually his two kids. But he's confident with himself and he's happy. So, when Bertie reluctantly visits Lionel at the behest of his wife, there is an immediate clash of personality.
The evolution of the movie is based on the evolution of their relationship. Lionel constantly tests Bertie, believing that many of Bertie's speech problems stems from psychological scars rather than physical impairments. Some of the best scenes in the movie come from their back and forth, whether it be in the form of some funny banter, or in some heart-wrenching discussions about Bertie's fucked-up family life, especially his relationship with his father, George V (Michael Gambon), and his brother, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce). Both of these men have their own role to play in Bertie's speech impediment, and we learn this in little pieces throughout the movie.
Pearce stands out as playing a selfish prick quite well. He's supposed to be the one to take over the monarchy, but he refuses in order to marry his commoner wife who the Church of England won't allow to be royalty because she's been divorced twice. This would be a very romantic sentiment, if not for the fact that we see that Edward is essentially henpecked by this woman, and they have nothing of the loving, healthy relationship that we see between Bertie and his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, taking a break from playing psychotic nut jobs in order to give a great, low-key performance).
By the end of the movie, Bertie is saddled with a responsibility that he is not sure he can handle, but when he finds himself in front of a microphone once again, this time as the King of England, watching him give his first radio address almost has you shouting words of encouragement at the screen.