See, now I'm all over the place with the PG-13. There's nudity. There's not even a little amount of nudity. I'm not saying it's a movie of naked people, but it's more than PG-13 nudity. I honestly am starting to believe that MPAA look more at tone than actual content. There's a lot of questionable material, but the movie feels family friendly...you know, despite the nudity. Like, Geoffrey Rush is nude in front of a kid. But. by all means, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Scott Hicks
Okay, I have beef. A few years ago, everyone was raving about The Blind Side. Years before that, people were raving about A Beautiful Mind. Shine might be the third in the series for me. There are problematic movies that gain general acclaim that are fundamentally flawed for their portrayal of something that could at its core be false. I'm getting this out of the way without bothering to review the movie because I am actually pretty riled up about this whole thing. I knew nothing about Shine before watching it. One of my former film students picked up the Criterion laserdisc for me for a buck and I was more than thrilled. I'm actually super jazzed to have it in my collection, but I digress. Upon watching the first third of the movie, I just said that this was Oscar bait. Shine really hasn't survived the test of time as one of the greatest films like it did back in the '90s. It's an okay movie, but all I could think was how Oscar baity it felt. I mean, if I had to make a checklist for what people throw into an Academy Award nominated film, this movie had it all. I grinned and beared it because I didn't know too much about this movie. ("Beared" or "bore"?) Then I started Wikipediaing the movie and found out that it was based on a true story. I know that technically didn't mean anything, but the lizard part of my brain forgave a lot more of the movie knowing it was the adaptation of someone's real life. The middle of the movie got fascinating for me. Honestly, when Geoffrey Rush took over as the main character, I grew fascinated with the whole thing. I mean, I didn't dislike the actor who played David as a child or David as an adolescent. They did a marvelous job. But the story, for me, was about how someone comes back from being completely broken. Then I kept on reading the Wikipedia article. I know. I should have been focused on the film and let it speak for itself. But a lot of this felt larger than life and I needed to know what I should attach to and what I should treat like a grain of salt.
This is the stuff that removes me from the movie. There was actually quite a bit of controversy over this film. SPOILERS: David Helfgott married an astrologer. I wikipediaed at this point because it seemed really icky. Helfgott never really recovers from his mental breakdown and someone who does not have a disability married Helfgott. It is almost love at first sight in the film. What does she see in Helfgott besides his talent? That makes lovely cinema, but it is also a realistic nightmare. They are, in no ways, equals. It actually feels kind of rapey to me. I'm not the only one who thinks so. There are a contingent of people who believe that this astrologer was capitalizing on this man's talent. This is a man who had no agency. He is, for all intents and purposes, mentally a child. He can play piano fabulously (which is also disputed for the point of the film, but that's also very subjective so why argue it?). But he's not in charge of his own career. He's not making decisions of independence. People in the movie want to befriend him and take care of him, but Helfgott is mentally unable to make adult decisions. The movie really stresses this. So this astrologist marries someone who is outwardly very childish. He can't keep a straight thought and acts inappropriately. This is a similar problem that I had with The Blind Side. I thought that family was taking advantage of that kid so he could play for Ole' Miss. The only reason that people trust the family in The Blind Side is because they are the main characters and every good person in that movie is white while every bad person in the movie, shy of the subject of the film, is black. Even the NCAA lawyer is black. Honestly, I was shook. There's a very real chance that that family was taking advantage of him. But again, that's just because I tend to not trust everyone involved in a story. I also hate sports movies. But back to Shine, I can't help but think, "What if the stories are true? What if she is just in it for the money?" Trust me. It puts a damper over the whole piece.
The father stuff was a bit much. I hate that I keep citing a Wikipedia article. It seems lazy, but the movie really inspired me to do some reading afterwards because it just felt like something was wrong with the film from early in the viewing. A lot of this came from dated filmmaking. I'm not saying that the '90s was a bad era for popular culture. Some really amazing things came out of the '90s. But this movie had some real studio manipulatey tropes that just rubbed me the wrong way and led me down a Wikipedia and YouTube spiral. Apparently, his relationship with his dad wasn't that bad. Mediocrity is the worst thing that can happen to a film. Awful or amazing work really well. If he had a terrible childhood, that sells. If he had an amazing childhood, that sells. Having a meh childhood doesn't cause someone to have a mental breakdown on film. But the nuances of psychology are far stronger than what happens in film so there had to be a binary decision to completely wreck this kid early on. The movie focuses on David's heritage in conjunction with being an overbearing parent. I like the Judaism thread throughout the beginning of the film. It gives the events context and weight. But again, as with much of Shine, there's also a heavy dose of manipulation that accompanies it. The Judaism doesn't really play a central role in the story. Rather, it is there as window dressing. It may have played an important part in the real David's life, but it only is another element in a clown car full of individual motifs that don't all play out. Where the film shines (pun) is the music. I don't know what it is about a music movie that makes it stand out from other films. It's the same way that Whiplash makes you love and fear drums simultaneously. The movie does a fantastic job of communicating why people are so obsessed with playing music and playing music well. I love that Geoffrey Rush continued his lessons so he could play on-screen. Those shots of him smoking and his complete silhouette is mashing those keys is wildly effective. Since I'm so critical about everything, I kept noticing hand double stuff with the other actors. I mean, that's a tall order I guess. David Helfgott, at least from Shine's perspective, is one of the greatest piantists in the world. It is impossible to train a lot of people to do that. But then again, Geoffrey Rush did it.
I guess the real victor from this film is Rachmaninoff. Hicks does this outrageous job of establishing for the layman that Rachmaninoff is meant to drive you crazy. Normally, I scoff at these moments in film. Saying something is impossibly hard is simply a technique to build tension and foreshadow. But Hicks sells me the Rachmaninoff angle pretty hard. When the music is played finally, it does its job. I still don't fully understand why so any people are afraid of letting him attempt the piece earlier in the film. I thought it was just another form of making him afraid to fail, but I don't mind that. Like I said, it's matter of suspense. Like David has to earn the skills to play Rachmaninoff, we have to earn the opportunity to listen to it. I do like the actual performance when it happens. It's very cool and stylized and the buildup is worth the wait. In fact, it is almost the climax to the first movie of the two that I mentally comprise as Shine. Everything that is not Geoffrey Rush is tonally different from everything that isn't Geoffrey Rush. I wonder if the marketing let the audience know about the break. I suppose so. '90s trailers weren't very subtle. (Silly side idea before I forget: why did he lose the first contest? Everyone was amazed. The piano moved. This isn't explained very well, but it used to illustrate his father's obsession with winning.) Really, I claimed that I only liked Rush on, but David at the Academy of Music is fairly great. I think I didn't like the dad storyline or something. It's something I've seen too many times before and Dad just comes across like a psychopath or something.
So now I have another movie that I feel icky about. It's these adaptations of the real stories. I know that film has to make reality more cinematic. I know that they might might a saint out of an ordinary dude, but I don't like when it might be glorifying evil. Again, she may have married him out of love. But the movie doesn't really do a good job establishing what she sees in him outside of talent. That's not a rich marriage to me. I don't know. I might be slagging off someone's deep and passionate love, but I don't really get that vibe. But again, this is a movie. Real life is real life.
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.