PG-13. A PG-13 that should definitely be R. I don't know who Richard Attenborough knows, but he's got dirt on someone.
DIRECTOR: Richard Attenborough
I don't think this kind of biopic really exists anymore. I think that might be for good reason. Ever since I saw Jobs, the complete life biopic has always seemed off. Jobs got something right. As an audience member, there is something special about seeing one aspect of a person in depth than a summary of their entire life. That's what Chaplin is. As a teacher, I keep seeing school projects where students rush a lot of content into a very short amount of time. Trying to fit every aspect of Chaplin's life into one movie cheapens a very full existence. It's really a shame because I find Chaplin himself so fascinating.
There's a lot of bad choices that really detract from the tone of this movie. I'd like to start off with a controversial one. John Barry might have been the worst choice to score this film. I need to defend myself. I used to think that John Barry was one of the best composers in Hollywood. As a James Bond fan, I'd listen to John Barry's film scores just on repeat throughout my high school life. I was what they used to call "a cool guy." Barry made everything he did epic. The use of strings and full orchestras was inspirational and placed me in the moment of every film ever. The problem here is that the music sounds exactly the same, even the epic nature was considered inappropriate. It just sounded so generic and tonally inappropriate. Every scene was weepy and blah and I don't think that was Chaplin. I will give the movie that Attenborough is shooting for a painful look at Chaplin's life, but there's no balance. The funniest of moments were scored with nostalgia and blah that it seemed like Charlie Chaplin never brought laughter to anyone.
There's also something very strange about '90s biopics. There is an upsetting "okay-ness" with statutory rape. I get that J. Edgar Hoover makes an awesome American historical villain, but Charlie Chaplin was genuinely creepy when it came with his obsession with young girls. The movie downplays this by an obsession with Hetty Kelly, but that almost just seems to serve as a chaser to a very creepy lack of self-control. I don't like the idea of demonizing Charlie Chaplin, but I don't want to also be cool with his lifestyle. Chaplin was admirable for his political stances and his understanding of the comic arts. It wasn't really persecution when it came to the molestation of young women. But that's part of the problem of this movie. This movie wanted to cover everything about Chaplin. That means that this problem needs to be addressed or else it is revisionist history.
Performances, this movie is pretty good. I love Downey, but this is an era before he's the Downey we love. This is brat-packy Downey and it, admittedly, is not my favorite era for this actor. It is honestly very distracting watching him play in old makeup across from Anthony Hopkins. While Downey is competent, I can't help but think of those cringy moments from Bram Stoker's Dracula with Keanu Reeves trying to chew the scenery and failing horribly. Downey holds his own, but the reality of the moment is very transparent. I haven't really seen a movie that stars so many celebrities and it is a little jarring seeing them play real people. After studying Mark Sennett, I enjoy seeing Dan Aykroyd, but it isn't real for me. I had that same experience watching Mission: Impossible 3 after Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah's couch. It is ironic that this is the same era where the star system was born because the effect was the same. I wasn't looking at Charlie Chaplin, Mark Sennett, or Douglas Fairbanks. I was looking Robert Downey, Jr., Dan Aykroyd, and Kevin Kline.
For a movie about one of the most famous comedians in film history, this movie is dour. I never believed that Downey was a master of comedies or the pratfall. It's so serious that it hurt to watch. The best part of the movie was the clips of actual Chaplin because those scenes get the tone. Perhaps it is the John Barry tie, but this is the same emotional manipulation that I see in movies like Dances With Wolves. It feels cheap and epic without purpose.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.