Sunday, February 6, 2011

T-T-T-Today, Junior: The King's Speech Review

What, exactly, constitutes a film as Oscar-Bait? There are a myriad of examples: films that run longer than they should, British period dramas that are filled with elaborate sets and costumes, films with casts that have previously won acting trophies, films that run "For Your Consideration" advertisements accompanied by sweeping, epic musical notes. Do films that fall into these categories generally suck? They don't have to: previous films that fall close to any of these categories I have loved--Polanski's The Pianist and Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are two examples. The King's Speech hits many of the criteria (a British period drama, a story about a man with a disability, a heartwarming story and friendship); however, none of these things change the fact that The King's Speech is an entertaining and tearjerking (although sometimes obvious) stroll through a portion of the life of stammering King George VI.
     Anyone that has any little fear about public speaking can relate to the stammering of King George VI (portrayed with amazing precision by the future Best Actor winner, Colin Firth), nicknamed Bertie, and that is precisely the reason why the film works on many different levels. At the beginning of the film, his stutter is devastating: in one of the many extremely tense and awkward scenes in the movie, it's almost uncomfortable to sit in the theater seat and watch (This helps the major payoff at the end of the film in relation to seeing someone overcome adversity in the face of pressure and stress). He has been ridiculed throughout his entire life about his stammer, mostly by his father, King George V, and his brother, King Edward VIII. When King George becomes ill and dies, Bertie's older brother Edward becomes King, but his reign comes to an end suddenly and quickly due to the love of a divorced women. Bertie, now King George VI, becomes King during one of the most important wartime eras in history. Consequently, that means that Bertie becomes the center of attention, and he must deliver one of the most important speeches declaring war against Hitler's Germany.
     The King's Speech is great instead of good because of one reason: the sometimes hilarious and always heartwarming relationship between Bertie and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue (portrayed with a warm and humorous understanding by Geoffrey Rush). Bertie goes to the "doctor" after he and his wife have exhausted many options to help his stammering. In the first of many meetings between the  royal man and the common man, Lionel has Bertie recite Shakespeare into a recording device while wearing headphones playing very loud music so he can't hear himself speak. He gets frustrated, throws a tantrum and leaves, but not before Lionel gives him the recording as a parting gift. A few scenes pass before the obvious happens: Bertie, angry and hopeless, listens to the recording and hears himself reciting without much of a stammer at all. This realization by Bertie that Lionel may possibly have the answer to help him with his problem propels the film to the entertaining ups and downs of Bertie overcoming his problem with Lionel's help. Throughout the film, their scenes together are always amazing and magical, with Lionel as the conductor and Bertie's voice as the music.
     Lately, The King's Speech has been stealing the momentum of The Social Network in the Best Picture Oscar race. I can see why; however, I think that The Social Network is the better film, a better film about "now" and one that shows the world how it is today. But: I'm not going to go too far and say that I will be disappointed if The King's Speech brings home the big trophy. Although it is the definition of perfect wanking material for the older Oscar voters, The King's Speech is an uplifting story about a man overcoming personal adversity in the face of enormous pressure, a story about the benefits of a loving wife and a true friend, and a story about the nervousness we all feel at some point in our lives.     (B+)

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