PG for violence happening to kids. This goes a bit beyond traditional kids-in-peril. The antagonist of the movie goes out of her way to torture kids both physically and psychologically. A lot of it is played for laughs, but I know that this doesn't necessarily gel with all audiences. Similarly, characters die off screen and the entire thing is kind of marred by tragedy. Matilda herself has to also cross some dubious lines to save the day. PG.
DIRECTOR: Matthew Warchus
Man, not only did I watch a lot of musicals in a row (my wife was in a mood for them), but I watched a lot of all audience films in a row. It's probably Christmas Break and all and I was surrounded by children for the majority of the time. But all I know is that I've had to make the MPAA section green for so many movies in a row. Is that making me a better person? Probably not. Either way, the next movie is also going to get the Green-Treatment, so yay?
I wasn't prepped for this. This movie had no right to slap has hard as it did. No right! I was planning on reading my book while the kids and wife watched this movie and then the opening scene happened. I know I just wrote about Godspell and how much I loved it, but I tend not to like adaptations of stage productions on film. The acting always seems to be a bit off and the spectacle that often acts as the foundation for stage musicals seems stilted. Apparently, Matilda thrives as a film, probably better than the stage production. That's unfair. I haven't seen the stage production. But Roald Dahl is weird. (I hear that there's some really racist ideas that I didn't know about, which bums me out. But until I get confirmation, I am going to simply look at what limited experience I have had with the author.) Like Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl creates these worlds that in no way reflect reality. I was about to make a connection between Roald Dahl and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, until I slapped myself for forgetting that it's the same dude who made both Matilda and Charlie.
Matthew Warchus kind of gets Roald Dahl. Yeah, I saw the other Matilda movie when I was a kid. I know that some people hold that movie to be sacrosanct. But I'll tell you what? It didn't do much for me. Again, I'm not really going to comment on something I hold little to no memory of. But still, there's something a little fluffy about that movie. If anything, the Matilda musical does two things that absolutely needed to happen: capture the look of Roald Dahl (what does that mean? C'mon, he had drawings so stop trying to put me on trial, reader) and give her an edge that has a voice. In terms of look, everything in that opening sequence nails what a Roald Dahl musical should look like. It's an insane fever dream. It's our world but bigger and covered in way more sugar. If you took the Tim Burton elements out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this is what is what we're seeing in that opening sequence. Coupled with the fact that Tim Minchin might be a genius that I've kind of ignored for too long, that opening scene grabs your attention. About 10% is considering using that scene to explain what a hook should do in a paper because I went from not wanting to watch that movie to not taking my eyes off the screen the entire time.
But more importantly comes the message of Matilda. I keep coming back to something that I promised I wouldn't talk about, but it's the portrayal of Matilda in the 1996 version. She was this sweet kid who is tortured by her parents and a headmistress. It's the other characters who are making the choices and Matilda must react. But this a film for revolutionaries. Yeah, I shouldn't be advocating this reading that hard, but I'm going to. This is the Matilda for the post #metoo / BLM generation. It's probably the Matilda that Roald Dahl was talking about, albeit with different intentions. Dahl's charcters tend to be a bit messy and imperfect. But the movies tend to make them react to things rather than being proactive. I'm thinking about The BFG and Charlie. Roald Dahl, and the UK in general, love the tale of the waifish orphan being downtrodden upon by evil parents or stepparents. I mean, where would Harry Potter be without the Durseys. But OG film Matilda would find solace in simply being right and doing the right thing in the face of evil. This Matilda? Not so much.
Matilda has a whole song about the morality of her actions. It makes her compelling as heck. Yeah, she might not always make the right choice, but I love that in the story. She has this song about whether or not to super glue her father's hat to his head. She does it and there's no real consequences, outside of the villainous characters to continue to treat her in a villainous fashion. But it also creates this lovely contrast with this forgiving moment at the end with her dad. Instead of Matilda being a reactionary character, she makes decisions that spark the ire of those around her. Don't get me wrong. In no way does the movie imply that Matilda brings this misery upon herself. If anything, the movie plays up that there is such a notion of privilege and that some people don't have it. It stresses that the world is a terrible place with bits of sunshine hidden in there. But is the world a good place? Oh no way. But it isn't the role of the girl / woman to simply have faith that the world will correct itself. It is the role of woman to take back power from whence it was taken.
The odd thing, Matilda fights women. As much as her dad sucks, he's the comic relief in the story. She's after Agatha Trunchbull, the superintendent of her school. Trunchbull, in true Dahl fashion, is so over-the-top with her villainy that she's applause worthy. And everything I say after this is in acknowledgement that Emma Thompson crushes it with her performance. BUT! (But, but, but, but, but!) There's something really missed in the casting of Agatha Trunchbull. In the stage production of Matilda, from what I understand, Agatha Trunchbull is typically played by a man. I think Ralph Fiennes originated the role. (I mean, talk about typecasting that guy, right?) I can see why casting a man in a women's role might seem problematic today, but it is also kind of missing the point. As progressive as I try to be, liberals tend to step on their own toes to avoid problems, often causing bigger problems. Let's back up this argument for a second. Roald Dahl probably didn't decide to make this a story about women gaining power back. He probably wrote a cheeky little story about a little orphan who takes on the ogre at her school and wins. Cool. Fun story, bro. But Matilda made in 2022 is a reflection of the culture. It is fundamentally making the story about power struggle. You have Agatha Trunchbull, who is a woman but embraces both masculine looks and sensibilities, trying to destroy this little girl. If you lose that opportunity, the story stays closer to Roald Dahl's cute story (I can already read the comments in my head). But then it becomes a story about women fighting women.
And there might be something there when it becomes about that. What I love (and this makes me feel like Joss Whedon, fake White Knighting, despite the fact that I just believe this) is that this is a story almost entirely about women. The male characters are fun, but ultimately inconsequential. There's Matilda, Ms. Trunchbull, and Miss Honey. Ms. Trunchbull is the woman holding onto the tyrrany of the past. While we don't know much about her beyond her devotion to sports --specifically hammer throwing --her character seems to have used the misogyny of the old regime to gain power herself. She uses physical might for intimidation. Never is Trunchbull seen in a feminine light. If anything, her violence is often excused by others because she is technically a woman. After all, a man beating on little girls is unforgivable. A woman, on the other hand is a bit more acceptable. Then there is Miss Honey, whose learned helplessness has led to a life of misery. Despite having a strong sense of optimism and lust for a potential life, she does nothing to change the misery of those around her for the greater good.
But this is where my idea falls apart. Matilda loves Miss Honey. She sees this abused woman and instead allows Miss Honey to take care of her. Yeah, I guess it makes for a happy ending. But she never gets mad at Miss Honey for doing nothing about the situation. To be fair to a fictional character like Miss Honey, there are times where she vocalizes her frustration with Trunchbull. But she always tends to back down when her own safety or profession are compromised. I have to remember that so much of this movie is directed at children. Children need to be the hero of the story because that's fundamentally who Roald Dahl is. There's really this tempest of thought brewing in me right now. On one hand, the film teaches a great lesson: Stand up for yourself because no one else will do it for you. Awesome. Love it. I'm on board. But also, on the other hand, why aren't adults doing something about the world. For all of Miss Honey's innocence, is that innocence really worth preserving in the face of tyrrany and oppression? That's something that is odd. Matilda is looking for a stable family, but all of the adults are obsessed with maintaining comfort and purity. It's not like Miss Honey has a good life. But she still has her life while kids are being hurt / killed in Pokey? Sure, everything in Matilda is hyperbole, but these are the facts presented us.
Ah! I leave this blog loving the movie, but also having so many questions that can't be answered because the movie gave me a full stop on problems in society that it refuses to address. Should Matilda take care of herself? Is this a movie about women infighting? Why are adults so fragile while being asked to care for children? Why is the world such a bad place? I don't know. All I know is that Tim Minchin can write amazing songs and that the movie is pretty to look at.
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.