There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.
While working as a paid woman‘s companion for the wealthy and insufferable Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd), a young woman (Lily James) meets the even wealthier Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). Maxim is the focus of every eligible woman hoping to improve their fortune. He lives at the legendary Manderley estate, and his wealth is vast. He tragically lost his wife, so he has unexpectedly become a bachelor once again. While many are hoping to get the attention of Maxim de Winter and becoming his next wife, the young woman’s companion entertains no such possibility, as she knows no man of his class would ever be with a woman like her.
Thus, after an unexpected meeting, Maxim de Winter takes a liking to the young woman’s companion right away. Their romance blossoms quickly, and they marry soon after. The new Mrs. de Winter then travels to live with her new husband at the Manderley estate, but she quickly discovers that Maxim is not quite over his late wife Rebecca. Every one speaks very highly Rebecca de Winter, and the former woman’s companion realizes it may be impossible to fill her shoes. Rebecca is dead, but her presence in the Manderley estate is very much alive, and that is something that Maxim’s housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), intends to capitalize on.
The Pros & Cons
|The Pros||The Cons|
Lily James (+5pts)
The Snooping (-4pts)
The Three Acts (+4pts)
The Mystery (+3pts)
Maxim & The Transitions (-5pts)
Pro: Lily James (+5pts)
I was not a fan of this movie for reasons I will get into throughout this review, but Lily James was great in it nonetheless. There were basically three different versions of this character. In act one, she was your typical naive young female character in a new romance. In act two, she was certainly less naive, but she was curious and insecure to a fault, but her character’s evolution did not stop there.
In act three, she became clear-headed, strong-willed, and she took matters into her own hands. Lily James did a great job of playing this character, very smoothly transitioning between her character‘s evolutionary states. She played all of her character’s drama, emotion, insecurity, and curiosity believably. I was not a fan of the writing around her, but Lily James carried a lot of this movie on her back, and she was a big reason why this movie was at least watchable.
Con: The Snooping (-4pts)
The whole snooping thing was both ridiculous and redundant. It was ridiculous in the sense that the new Mrs. de Winter was unrealistically snoopy, just for the sake of adding drama, tension, and moving the plot in a specific direction. Her snooping was unrealistically rude, and she just kept doing it, even though she had no reason to be as curious as she was, and she also should have known better than to do it. It just made her a somewhat unlikable character, but my issue with her snooping was more than that.
I also thought the filmmakers went to that well too many times. The ridiculously naive woman’s companion snooped in Maxim's car and he took issue with her flipping through a private book. Then she got to the Manderley estate, and her snooping only got worse. She went into rooms she should not have gone in, she opened drawers she should not have opened, and she went directly against requests from her new husband. I am not saying it is the role of a wife is to obey every last command of her husband, that is ridiculous, but the passing of Maxim’s late wife was clearly a touchy subject for him, and any reasonable person would have let him open up to them in his own time. The new Mrs. de Winter was not that reasonable person, and the filmmakers kept having her snoop and get caught, just for the sake of adding drama and tension, and it got old pretty quickly.
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Pro: The Three Acts (+4pts)
I kind of already mentioned this indirectly, while talking about the three different versions of the main character, but this movie had three pretty distinct acts. Act one was about the main character meeting Maxim and their romance blossoming. Act two was about the main character's introduction to the Manderley estate, and her insecurity over not being able to fill Rebecca's shoes. Act three was about something else entirely. I do not want to say exactly what that was to avoid spoilers, but if you watch the movie, it will be pretty obvious when it switches to the third act. I had my issues with how this movie transitioned between these three acts, and I will get into that later, but I liked that the story evolved in the way it did.
The movie kept transforming into something else, and the three acts being about three completely different things made the overall story feel somewhat unpredictable. The filmmakers started with act one, then once you were comfortable with that story and where you thought it was going, it became something completely different with act two. Then that happened all over again when switching between acts two and three. I did not like the filmmakers execution of this story, but I thought the three different acts helped to keep reinventing the story, so it never really felt stale.
Con: Rebecca (-5pts)
Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca. Wow, the characters in this movie talked about Rebecca—a dead character—a lot. Mrs. Van Hopper talked about her while explaining to the main character who Maxim was. The main character brought her up a few times while their relationship was still blossoming, and Maxim kept turning her down pretty quickly and while getting pretty emotional about it. Then the new Mrs. de Winter got to the Manderley estate, and the talk of Rebecca only escalated from there. She was described by pretty much every other character as this perfect, flawless woman, who no ordinary person could ever compete with.
The constant praising of Rebecca was annoying—we get it, she was great, now move on. The constant snooping by the new Mrs. de Winter all centered around the mystery of what happened to Rebecca. The filmmakers even teased in the trailers that Rebecca may still be within the house, in some form, but that was just a trailer tease and nothing more. This was pretty disappointing, as I thought this story could have used that element. The filmmakers set Rebecca on the highest possible pedestal, which made her feel like a fictitious character. She did not feel real, and the constant, ridiculous praising of her took me out of the movie more than a few times.
Pro: The Mystery (+3pts)
While the constant praising and discussion about Rebecca sort of ruined this mystery, the mystery of what happened to her and Maxim's role in it were inherently interesting. Granted, the extreme focus that the filmmakers gave to Maxim being questionable made me almost certain that his involvement was not what the filmmakers were hinting it might have been. Nonetheless, part of my continued intrigue in this movie was wanting to see how it all went down. Did Rebecca even die? If so, how did she die? Was Maxim involved in her death, and if he was, how so? I think the filmmakers used Maxim pretty lazily, with respect to this mystery, and I will get into that later, but I thought the mystery of this movie was enough to keep me at least somewhat interested in this story.
Con: Maxim & The Transitions (-5pts)
With Maxim, I thought the filmmakers used him lazily. In the second act, the filmmakers wanted to lean into the mysteriousness of Rebecca’s fate, but if Maxim and the main character lived together, then the main character would have had plenty of opportunities to get answers out of him. To get around this, the filmmakers just had Maxim leave for arbitrary reasons, and for arbitrary periods of time. They would just bring him back randomly to get mad and build tension, but then he would vanish again. It was like the filmmakers did not know how to write the character in a compelling way without spoiling the ending, so they just took him out of the story whenever his presence was inconvenient.
Maxim was also the main reason why the transitions between the three acts did not work for me. Like the main character, there were three different versions of Maxim’s character—one for each act—but unlike the main character, his evolution was not smooth. In act one, he was pleasant, but mysterious. Then act two started, and almost as soon as he got to the Manderley estate, he became easily agitated and irrationally opposed to everything his new wife did. Then act three started, and it was as if the filmmakers flipped another switch, because all of Maxim’s anger and hostility just vanished suddenly, and he became an entirely different version of the character. Character growth is important, but the filmmakers clearly did not know how to write this character properly. They just suddenly changed his personality to fit whatever they needed him to be in order to steer their story a certain way, and they provided no real justification to explain these changes.
Grade: C- (73pts)
While this movie definitely had potential, I thought it was pretty disappointing. Lily James was great in the lead role, I liked the three distinct tones in the three acts, and I thought the mystery of Rebecca's fate was inherently interesting. Unfortunately, the main character's constant snooping made her kind of unlikable, the constant praising of Rebecca by other characters was annoying and made her seem unrealistic, and I thought the filmmakers wrote Maxim very poorly. It was not exactly a bad movie, but the movie had potential, and I thought the filmmakers made a movie that fell very far below that potential.