Volume 94, Issue 63
Wednesday, January 22, 2003

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These are Hours well spent

The Hours
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Stephen Daldry

By Maggie Wrobel
Gazette Staff

Gazette file photo
SURE THEY'RE ALL GREAT - BUT WHICH ONE OF THEM WILL WIN THE OSCAR? Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman all give phenomenal performances in The Hours.
Told through the stories of three different women in three different decades, The Hours is much more than your average "chick flick."

The main thing that separates The Hours from the mass of silly Ya-Ya Sisterhood-esque drivel is that it has a dark side that cannot be ignored because it is depicted so stoically and forcefully.

Nicole Kidman plays troubled literary genius Virginia Woolf in the 1920s, complete with a fake aristocratic nose. Her husband Leonard (relatively unknown standout Stephen Dillane) does his best to protect Woolf from herself, as her mind slowly deteriorates, but her writing talents grow.

Woolf is in the midst of writing Mrs. Dalloway, her monumental feminist tale of a woman whose glittery high-society life is an attempt to disguise her degenerating mind. The three female stars' characters all relate to Mrs. Dalloway in their own unique ways.

As Laura Brown, Julianne Moore reunites with her Magnolia co-star John C. Reilly (who seems to be in every hit movie these days), as the two play a seemingly perfect married couple in 1952. Moore's character obviously feels trapped in her suburban life and seeks fulfillment by reading Mrs. Dalloway and subsequently fantasizing about different (and often morbid) ways to escape her dreary existence.

Moore's performance is visibly powerful because she keeps Laura's apparent despair bubbling just beneath her red-lipsticked, perfectly powdered facade. It appears that she may explode at any time, and this makes the audience hang onto her every move.

Meryl Streep plays Clarissa Vaughan, and her story takes place in New York City in 2001. She too feels a kinship with Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, as her best friend and former boyfriend (a visibly scarred and compelling Ed Harris) gave her that nickname in her youth. That friend is now dying of AIDS and, in a storyline exactly parallel to Woolf's Dalloway, Clarissa is planning a party for him as a celebration for an award he has won.

Streep's appearance in The Hours comes right off the heels of her role as Susan Orlean in Adaptation, the Spike Jonze-directed film that, like The Hours, also blurs the usually clearly evident line between reality and fiction.

Where Adaptation dances between real life and a movie script, The Hours is directly intertwined with both Virginia Woolf's literary work and her real-life mental problems. This correlation is compelling, despite the film's slow start.

The three women's stories flow so seamlessly into one another, that sometimes the transition from decade to decade is almost too smooth. The audience begins anticipating these transitions, which ultimately takes away from their ultimate impact.

Streep's Clarissa is clearly a true embodiment of Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, and Streep pulls out all the stops in creating anguish and confusion, especially in the moments when she suffers silently.

However, despite the impressive turns by Moore and Streep, the movie clearly belongs to Kidman. For all the buzz about the fake nose she wears in the film, there is nothing artificial or forced about her portrayal of Woolf.

Her anguish resonates throughout the film and is so passionately realistic that it is difficult to watch at times. This conscious embrace of the darkness that comes with depression is what makes The Hours so striking and memorable.


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