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Red Sparrow

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Red Sparrow

Spielberg. Streep. Hanks.

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Breathe♚ ♛ 1/2

This is England, 1958, when Robin (Andrew Garfield) spies Diana (Claire Foy, The Crown) across a Cricket field. He’s taken back by her beauty. He can barely breathe.  She’s stunning, and he’s instantly smitten.  His buddies say there’s no way she’ll consider him as her mate.  He’s slight in social class and far from wealthy, yet, Diana sees him as her future husband. He’s the one.

Robin is athletic, energized and boyish, and she’s a total bore.  Diana’s demeanor is complacent and calm to a fault, although she can apparently pilot a small prop plane to Kenya without a hitch.

But very soon into their marriage, and her pregnancy, and while in Africa Robin is stricken with Polio; his life becoming a tracheotomy and a breathing tube.    Robin wants to die, Diana is determined to make him live.  Talking to Robin becomes a guessing game as they learn to establish communication in a new light.

Unlike Garfield’s last performance and his delightful chemistry with Teresa Palmer in Hacksaw Ridge, or Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, this couple exhibits zero urgency…and certainly zero passion.

As Robin’s time left in this world goes beyond what is expected, we get a sense of his determination and his love of life, every breath becoming something more significant at the flip of a calendar.  But it’s one of those movies that’s anemic….it needs challenges. The only panic moment comes when his toddler son accidentally unplugs his breathing machine.  As a result, one feels as if it’s a story that could be wrapped with a bow and a name tag: “To Sappy.”  (note the scene of a Spanish holiday when nothing breaks their mood – even a broken machine – as flamenco dancers show up to keep our Invalid company.)

When Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville appears as an inventor of wheelchairs with ventilators, we expect ‘Lady Mary’ to show up, and toast a sherry.  And that’s the problem. This feels more like a cheery theatrical PBS series than a film with any heat.  It’s just a movie with manners.  And we’d like the movie to misbehave.

Based on the true story of Robin and Diane and Cavendish…the adventurous couple refuse to give up when he’s diagnosed with polio, yes. It’s a fitting tribute for a man paralyzed at only age 28 from the neck down.  But, the directorial debut of Andy Serkis (known for Planet of the Apes)  is missing a beat.  Several actually.   The challenges they face as never being a ‘normal’ couple are drowned in sticky sweet and colorful staging. ‘Through the ‘sickness and health’ vows, we are missing what might have been explored.  With their enduring love, we’d have liked to know more about his wife’s sacrifice, fears, frustrations and loss of her own ability to, well, live. And Breathe.


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