I’m beginning to think Rooney Mara has cloned herself. This year alone we’ve already seen her in Lion, The Secret Scripture, The Discovery, Song to Song and A Ghost Story, and her brief career has seen her work on four continents. Maybe her workaholic nature explains her somnambulistic acting style - she’s simply worn out. I can’t figure out if Mara is actually a good actor or not, but she’s certainly cornered the market in playing ‘damaged young women’, as is once again the case in Una, director Benedict Andrews’ adaptation of David Harrower’s controversial play Blackbird.
Mara plays the eponymous Una, a 28 year old who at the tender age of 13, entered into a sexual relationship with an adult neighbor, Ray (Ben Mendelsohn), the latter subsequently serving four years behind bars when his actions were discovered. Fifteen years later, Una tracks down Ray, now going under the name ‘Peter’, and confronts him at his current workplace.
Initially, Ray assumes Una has come looking for revenge, pulling her handbag out of her hands in fear it contains a pistol or some other weapon. It soon becomes apparent however that Una’s anger at Ray stems not from his physical abuse, but at the fact that he walked away from her. As outrageous as it may seem, Ray is still the love of Una’s life, and she hopes to pick up where they left off.
I can’t speak for Harrower’s play, but the film he has fashioned as a scriptwriter suggests he has scant interest in anything other than exploiting a shocking subject. Una offers little in the way of insight into either a pedophile or his victim, and the strained and theatrical dialogue dilutes the sense of realism necessary for a narrative of this nature. There are more than a few character actions that strain credulity. An impromptu sex scene between the adult Una and Ray in the locker room of the latter’s workplace is unintentionally laughable, a point at which the film can never recover. More baffling is a decision on the part of Ray that sets him up for exposure by placing Una in the care of co-worker Scott (a wasted Riz Ahmed).
Struggling with an unconvincing British accent, Mara delivers what might be the weakest performance of her short but prolific career. It doesn’t help that her character is one-note and under developed, another in cinema’s long line of ‘crazy’ women. More convincing is Ruby Stokes, who plays the 13-year-old Una in flashbacks that prompt uncomfortable questions regarding how much of the film’s themes the child actress was exposed to. Mendelsohn is once again typecast as a creep, but his character is far more multi-dimensional than Mara’s, which suggests the film may have benefitted from a female co-writer.
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The best screen adaptations of stage plays are often those that readily accept that they’re adaptations of stage plays and settle on making the most of a limited cast in a limited location (Sidney Lumet’s similarly themed The Offence a prime example). In a vain attempt to add cinematic value, Andrews’ film adds a pointless and distracting subplot concerning Ray burning bridges with his employers, an action that leads to himself and Una scurrying around his labyrinthine workplace to evade capture. The final act, in which Una arrives unannounced at a party thrown at the house Ray shares with his wife and his young stepdaughter is initially fraught with tension, but Andrews and Harrower fail to exploit its potential, and we’re left wondering how much more gripping the movie may have been had it adopted that setting for its entirety.
NJPAC Presents William Shatner LIVE Plus Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(NEWARK, NJ) -- On, Saturday, May 19th at 7:30pm prepare to be beamed up for this spectacular screening of the space classic, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, followed by award-winning actor and sci-fi legend William Shatner live on stage! The special evening takes place at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark. Tickets start at $39.
Sing Along With The Muppet Movie At Mayo On March 11th
(MORRISTOWN, NJ) -- Sing Along with The Muppet Movie comes to Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC) on Sunday, March 11 at 2:00pm. The event provides family-friendly, raucous interactions with the classic film of Jim Henson. The Sing Along crew brings elements of the films to life for the audience via puppetry, kiting, and shadow acting. Tickets range from $20-$30.
The Second Annual Reel Montclair: Academy Award Edition
(MONTCLAIR, NJ) -- The Film Institute at Montclair State has partnered with the New York Film Critic Series to present the second annual Reel Montclair: Academy Award Edition where four esteemed film critics will discuss the films and performances nominated for Academy Awards this year. The event will take place on Monday, February 26, 2018 at 7:30pm in the Presentation Hall in the School of Communication and Media on the Montclair State campus.
The Williams Center To Screen "The Vanishing of Sidney Hall"
(RUTHERFORD, NJ) -- The Williams Center will present The Vanishing of Sidney Hall on Tuesday, February 27th at 7:30pm. After publishing a bestselling novel based on the death of one of his high school classmates, the controversial writer Sidney Hall (Logan Lerman) finds himself catapulted to unexpected fame and renown. A Q&A with Director Shawn Christensen will take place immediately after the screening.
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