Thursday, January 27, 2011

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Fanciful, dark retelling of the true story of two young girls in New Zealand who insulate themselves in their own, private world, with disastrous results. Melanie Lynskey is Pauline, who is lower-middle class and repressed by her conservative mother and the remnants of various illnesses that plagued her as a child. She meets Kate Winslet's Juliet as a transfer student from England; similarly disease-ridden in her youth, she constantly escapes reality via immersive flights of fancy, i.e. pretending to be royalty in some far away land. Pauline is immediately attracted to Juliet, and the two begin to take Juliet's world of make-believe to the next level, with a wide array of fictional characters, kingdoms, and enemies, that relate to the real world only in the loosest sense. Eventually, their respective parents take issue with how close the girls proceed to get, and attempt to take measures to separate the two, turning them against their families. Their fake world has no tolerance for the meddling ways of real life, and so, they proceed to take whatever steps they see neccessary to stay together, using their false representation of reality as validation.

Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey are both given "Introducing..." credits here, and they instantly show the qualities that have led both of them to further success in film. Winslet is a strong, magnetic presence, pretty but not beautiful, comfortable without being showy. She is inspires both empathy for her misery, and sympathy for her delusional misappropriations of reality. Lynskey is given the harder role of being both inspired by Winslet and entranced by her; once familiar with Juliet's constant presence, the idea of being alone again is so frightening to Pauline, it sours her innocence and purity, so Lynskey must project both sympathy and insecure malice, which she does successfully without betraying the realism of the portrayal. She is, ostensibly, the lead of the piece, which gives writer/director Peter Jackson the difficult task of making you relate to her, which, thankfully, he succeeds in doing. Jackson, and cowriter Fran Walsh, relate the troubles of Pauline to Juliet to more conventional teenage struggles in such a way that I, as someone who was most certainly never a teenage girl in conservative 1950's New Zealand, could directly empathize with the two beleaguered youths. The increasingly lavish visualizations of the girls' fantasies ends up bringing about the Jackson we know and love, with computer-effects portraying their terracotta kingdom as being filled with lively, animated figures; while I prefer The Frighteners overall, as a film, this one has the more convincing special effects (odd, for of the two, it was the one NOT produced by Universal). Without spoiling anything, the tonal shifts of the piece are jarring, but Jackson handles the whole endeavor very well so that it feels like a uniform, singular piece, and not merely a collection of poignant, intense scenes.

Highly Recommended for fans of Peter Jackson, Kate Winslet, Melanie Lynskey, or real, friendship-based teen dramas. I was expecting something decidedly more chicky and exclusive than what I got; Jackson still has, in my eyes, an immaculate record (although I still haven't seen Bad Taste or The Lovely Bones).

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