TIFF 2019: The Goldfinch (John Crowley, 2019, USA)

               The Goldfinch is among the worst of bad films – a film so pretentious, so convinced of its own worth, that when it does start sinking, its badness becomes all the more apparent. Surely none of the actors in the film realized that the film would be bad, nor did anyone working on it. But despite all the talent behind and in front of the camera on The Goldfinch, the film simply does not come together. There are multiple reasons for this.
               I’m all for genre hybrids, but somehow the hybrid on display in The Goldfinch fails miserably. We are led to believe initially that this film is a personal drama about dealing with tragic events and loss. About halfway through the script, it turns into a potboiler involving a stolen painting being used to sell drugs. There is even a shootout. This transition from personal drama to crime film feels absurd from the get-go – at no point do we believe any of the characters in the film would enter the world of organized crime.
               The characters and performances represent another challenge. Nobody in The Goldfinch talks like a normal person. The dialogue is heavily stilted, rendering most scenes lifeless and inert. Ansel Elgort as the adult Theodore Decker – our protagonist – is particularly horrible. We are supposed to identify with him throughout, but his character is all window dressing. There is no depth to Theodore beyond the fact that he is suffering from trauma. Suffering does not automatically make a character deep.
               The supporting cast is equally abysmal, with Nicole Kidman giving one of her worst performances ever as Mrs. Barbour, matriarch of the family who takes Theodore in when his mother dies. Her acting, at best, is wooden. Likewise, Finn Wolfhard – who I have enjoyed in past films such as IT – gives a terrible performance delivered in an equally terrible Russian character. Luke Wilson gives perhaps the most tolerable performance in the film, but even he is given a stock character to play – drunken father.
               In sum, The Goldfinch is a profoundly dumb movie which thinks it is intelligent and moving.



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