PG-13 for child endangerment and Millie Bobbie Brown in old timey underwear, which is conservative by any of today's standards. Because it is a live-action adventure, the MPAA tends to lean heavily towards a PG-13 rating. Honestly, I don't see much in this movie that wouldn't be safely PG if it wasn't for the fact that it was live-action. I'm about to teeter off the nostalgia cliff here, but there are so many worse PG movies than this. It just feels like this is a bit of overkill because even the violence that is in this movie is pretty tame. It feels very Nancy Drew. But I can't change the rating, so PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Harry Bradbeer
Yeah, I would have watched this movie even if it wasn't for the punk rock marketing campaign that Netflix took with the poster. The two most adapted literary works have been Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" (which I put in quotation marks because it was technically a short story) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. It can't be all that shocking. With "A Christmas Carol" we get the same story over and over. But because the character of Sherlock Holmes is, as I understand it, public domain, people love messing with the extended universe of Sherlock Holmes. For those people who are weirded out about a film focusing on Sherlock Holmes's unknown little sister, by the way, you should go out and pick up the comic book Mycroft Holmes by basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Yeah, I know stuff.
But when there is a glut of content involving a single universe, one can't help but compare this film with previous incarnations of the characters. I know that people got off the Sherlock (the Steven Moffat / Mark Gatiss led show starring Benedict Cumberbatch) with the later seasons, but I still consider that to be the pinnacle of Sherlock Holmes storytelling. It's so risky and fun, coupled with a sense of mystery to each episode that begs to be solved. It's hard to really look at Enola Holmes because of Sherlock objectively. Maybe we're on a Sherlock Holmes kick and, thus, being buried under a wealth of content, have a hard time separating what makes each movie special.
But at least Enola Holmes highlights what makes the movie special quite clearly. The conceit of the film is that Enola has the logic of Sherlock, but is a strong, young woman who isn't a jerk. If Sherlock Holmes is all about this fairly toxic and conceited personality who is able to deduce results from the most obscure clues, Enola is someone who does the same thing without trying. Coupled with that, no one takes her seriously because she is a young woman. The men have been granted every opportunity in life. Sherlock has developed fame and reputation. Mycroft has wealth and respect. But Enola, being a woman during Victorian England, is considered less than her siblings. Given the first opportunity, Sherlock and Mycroft have abandoned their mother and sister and allowed them to fend for themselves, despite their numerous successes.
In terms of character and message, the movie nails it. Watching Millie Bobbie Brown as the whimsical Enola is completely refreshing. It's a marvelous departure from Eleven from Stranger Things because Enola is full of life. If Eleven is, because of her character's backstory, hiding her light under a bushel basket, Enola is someone who wears her heart on her sleeve. Coupled with the fourth wall breaks that make us feel like we are her confidants and the Watsons to her Holmes (by the way, where is Watson? There's a real stress that Sherlock always works alone and that's the one thing we all know isn't true.), the movie has this marvelously lighthearted tone. Enola as a protagonist makes me want my oldest daughter to get invested in the film because her qualities are all nearly perfect.
But we care about the movie because Enola is taking down the patriarchy...without really trying. The setting of the film is centered around the women's suffrage movement in London, which allows us insight into the status of women during this era. (I don't know if you know this, but women haven't always had it super easy. Also note, sometimes sarcasm doesn't translate into text. Women have had it awful for almost all of history.) But Enola, rather than talking about how men are toxic human beings, simply refuses to acknowledge social conventions for the era. Rather than having to have the constant scene, "But you are a woman, Enola", she fights because she can fight. Yeah, there are lots of people who try to put her in her place, but she never really bends to the will of these individuals. She's simply plucky and self-actualized and that makes her compelling.
It should be pointed out that a compelling character doesn't hold a movie altogether. I mean, it nearly does. The reason why I kinda / sorta enjoyed this movie is because of Enola herself. But in terms of plot, a good mystery should really be a tad more fleshed out. Enola Holmes seems like it is building a mythology for future films. Enola's origin story, divorced from being overshadowed by her more famous brothers, centers around the disappearance of her mother. The film paints mother out to be the ultimate mother of the Victorian era. Enola is who she is because of the investment that her mother put into her. So when her mother disappears, she is driven to find her at all costs. Along the way, which may be beyond believability, Enola encounters the Marquess of Tewksbery (of whose name I am envious) in the middle of his own adventure. Conventional formula storytelling (which I normally rally against) says that these two mysteries are intertwined. By pursuing Tewskbery's mystery, this will eventually solve the mystery of her missing mother.
But that doesn't happen.
If anything, the mystery of the missing mother solves itself. For all of Enola's deduction and cleverness, Mom just reveals where she has been. There's an anti-climax coming from that mystery because the movie is almost over. In terms of structure, the first half of the movie is deciding which plot takes priority. When Tewksbery's mystery establishes dominance (Ironically, a movie about a woman standing up for herself eventually means that the female protagonist abandons her own needs to focus on the man's problems), there's a speed run of a mystery. It almost becomes like an episode of television with how quickly Tewksbery's mystery unravels. Now, is this the worst thing in the world? Conceptually, this could be awesome. I'm a big fan of Veronica Mars. The format of Veronica Mars was the following: there is a season long, over-arching mystery where Veronica gets clues leading to a much bigger picture per episode. But simultaneously, she is also solving episode-long crimes. It seemed like that's where Enola Holmes was going. She had this overarching mystery tied to her own origin story. She had to find her mother, but got distracted by this smaller mystery. But then, the bigger mystery was just handed to her.
I suppose there might be a little bit of mystery left with this story. I don't quite understand what Mom was doing and why she was doing it. I mean, the movie tried telling me. It really did. But it just seemed so unsatisfying that my brain couldn't process the human element. Instead, we have this scene of Mom just apologizing for leaving and that was it. I don't know if that was supposed to be part of the message. Maybe our most respected people can disappoint us. After all, that was the theme to Go Set a Watchman. But as clear about the value of strong women is, that doesn't exactly scan. It really feels rushed, as if it is an afterthought. Was the studio afraid that Enola Holmes wasn't going to be the franchise they wanted it to be, so they played it safe? I don't know. It just reads as profoundly disappointing considering how much attention was paid to Eudoria Holmes.
So I liked an imperfect movie. It happens. Tonally and character wise, it nails so much. Perhaps I don't love Henry Cavill as Sherlock (he's too charming). But I do like the commentary that the movie makes on Sherlock Holmes. Yeah, it probably needed a bit more polishing, but it is definitely worth a watch.
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.