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      The Hours
    Time passages

    "The Hours," telling the stories of women in three eras beginning with Virginia Woolf, features some strong performances but its disconnected stories don't quite add up in the end.


    In 1923, a chain-smoking Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) is fretfully ruminating over the beginnings of a novel that will eventually become her opus "Mrs. Dalloway." In 1951, pregnant housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is obsessively reading the novel while fretting over her husband's birthday party preparations, and in 2001 Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) is living the life of Dalloway, a big-city socialite fretting over a party she too is about to host.

    Directed by: Steven Daldry.
    Written by: David Hare.
    Adapted from the book by: Michael Cunningham.
    Cast: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Jeff Daniels, John C. Reilly, Claire Danes, Allison Janney, Stephen Dillane, Miranda Richardson, Jack Rovello, Eileen Atkins, Sophie Wyburd.
    Music by: Philip Glass.

    Related links: All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Three women, three separate stories, each one linked, either directly or indirectly, to the writings of Ms. Woolf. That's the construct behind director Stephen Daldry's ("Billy Elliot") latest film and there's much to admire here, including performances worthy of our attention. "The Hours" is never as engrossing as it ought to be, however, because its stories never really connect.

    In the contemporary segment Clarissa (played with verisimilitude by Streep), a New York editor, attends to her former lover Richard (Ed Harris), a brilliant novelist who has taken ten years to write his latest book, about as long as Clarissa has been in a committed relationship with another woman (Allison Janney, convincing in blue jeans). Richard, who left Clarissa for another man (a paunchy Jeff Daniels, whom I mistook for Ron Perlman in the trailer) and likes to refer to his ex as Mrs. Dalloway since Clarissa shares many of the attributes of Woolf's eponymous heroine, is now dying of AIDS in his lifeless Manhattan apartment.

    In 1950s Los Angeles, Laura's feelings for her husband (the ubiquitous John C. Reilly) and son (an excellent Jack Rovello) are ambiguous at best. Laura's more-than-neighborly embrace with her trussed-up friend Kitty (a ghastly-looking Toni Collette; good though) is the catalyst that drives her towards a tragic — and irreversible — decision.

      The Hours
    Since Woolf's book touches on the significance of a same-sex kiss, it follows that Laura, for one, would be party to such a life-altering act. Clarissa's openly gay lifestyle aside, there is, of course, Woolf's own documented bisexuality to contend with — there's a moment in the film in which the author locks lips with her sister (played by Miranda Richardson) a little too persuasively.

    Similarly, the theme of suicide runs throughout Daldry's film like a chronometer marking the hours. Laura contemplates it, Clarissa witnesses it and, in the film's prologue set in 1941, a cognitive Woolf wades into a Sussex river, her pockets stuffed with rocks, and drowns herself. This is not the feel-good movie of the summer, that's for sure.

    Daldry intercuts the stories more deliberately in the early going, matching shot against shot — breakfast arrangements here, a gesture or an aside or a door opening there — but less so as the film progresses, since his themes of displacement, despair, and death do the matching for him. It's as if Daldry has taken three separate films — a creative process fueled biography a la "Iris," a "Far from Heaven" redo with Moore's character once again struggling with repressed homosexuality in picture-perfect suburbia, and a standard New York melodrama in which characters throw flowers into huge vases without the need to arrange them — and asked us to extract some meaning from the overlaps, the inter-relationships.

    All three women sport fantastic noses though. Kidman's is clearly a prosthetic one but at no time does she struggle under the weight of it (an Oscar nomination is a given and she'll most likely win it). Moore's performance is more detached; she brings a glazy-eyed aloofness to her Laura Brown, and I hate to say it but I'm beginning to tire of her freckled blandness. Streep is typically solid; yet, there are equally strong performances to be found in the smaller roles — Claire Danes breathes life into an underwritten, sympathetic part of Clarissa's daughter Julia and Stephen Devane is terrific as Leonard Woolf, the publisher struggling with his wife's encroaching madness.

    Perhaps it's telling that the film's most impressive set piece, visually speaking, is a dream sequence and that its most emotionally effective scene (when Leonard confronts Virginia at the train station) was changed from the original novel. In addition there's an intriguing "twist" towards the end of the film that helps clarify some of its characters' desires and motivations but it's not enough to pull everything together. Philip Glass's brooding, minimalist score propels the "action" along, its intense, swirling piano themes forever in evidence, constantly adding to the misery of the piece. Oh no — we've stumbled into The Hours-qatsi!

    Dark, dour, and just plain depressing, Daldry's earnest but overly complicated "The Hours" (based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham) never really lets us in nor offers up, alas, very much hope for the future.

    JANUARY 20, 2003

    Reader comments on The Hours:

  • movie   from Alice joh, Feb 16, 2003
  • bellissimo...   from Roberta, Apr 15, 2003
  • movie   from alice joh, Jul 25, 2003
  • Re: movie   from Frank, Apr 7, 2006
  • The Hours   from Girl Down The Road, Jan 21, 2004
  • Re: The Hours: The Girl Down the Road   from Nishanie Jayamaha, Apr 26, 2004
  • A Critic on a critique   from Nishanie Jayamaha, Apr 26, 2004
  • [no subject]   from , Jun 25, 2004
  • bla bla   from Mia, Jul 9, 2004
  • Perfeito   from Marcos, Sep 3, 2004
  • the hours   from anna, Sep 8, 2004
  • advice on grammar   from Ben, Dec 13, 2006

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