Movie Review ~ The King’s Daughter

The Facts:

Synopsis: King Louis XIV’s quest for immortality leads him to capture and steal a mermaid’s life force, a move that is further complicated by his illegitimate daughter’s discovery of the creature.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Benjamin Walker, Rachel Griffiths, Fan Bingbing, William Hurt, Julie Andrews, Pablo Schreiber, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Crystal Clarke

Director: Sean McNamara

Rated: PG

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (4.5/10)

Review: It’s always a question for me of how much I want to research a movie I’m reviewing before I screen in because once you’ve learned a factoid or read about some behind-the-scenes drama, you can’t unknow it. I’ve been good lately at going in sight unseen to most of the films I’m fortunate enough to see, and that was the case with The King’s Daughter – which turned out to be a perfect thing. Only after it ended, and I began to get this write-up pulled together, did I start to find out more about just how old the movie was and the troubled traveling it had to do to be released at all. In some ways, it helps explain a few of the fantasy flick’s more…unique quirks. Still, in others, it just confirms that perhaps, like the well-worn, gilded storybook that opens at the beginning of the film for an Oscar-winner to narrate, this may have sat on the shelf too long and expired before audiences could enjoy it.

Based on The Moon and the Sun, a 1997 novel by Vonda N McIntyre, the film was completed way back in 2014, almost a decade ago now, and has been bounced around release schedules and studios ever since. Featuring a not-unimpressive cast filming on location at the Palace of Versailles and Australia and eventually re-titled The King’s Daughter, director Sean McNamara has managed to direct a whopping twelve movies since wrapping the picture. Heck, it wasn’t until mid-June 2020 that Julie Andrews (Aquaman) was announced as the film’s narrator, hinting it was more than just completion of the special effects that delayed the movie all this time. Once you see the finished film, the end product of much-suspected tinkering and long hours of labor in the editing bay, you’ll agree.

It’s hard to argue with any entertainment that opens with Andrews’s melodic voice narrating the history of the cast of characters populating our story. While it sounds like Andrews may have recorded this during a lunch break from recording her audiobook, her brief presence gives the film the necessary opening energy to help it start on the right foot. Pretty soon, the tale of a vain King (Pierce Brosnan, Cinderella) injured in battle who approves his physician (Pablo Schrieber, The Devil Has a Name) to locate a mermaid from Atlantis and perform an ancient ceremony, involving vivisection of the mythical creature, gets dragged down by overdramatic performances and bewildering thematic tone shifts. Added into the mix is the King’s illegitimate daughter (Kaya Scodelario, Crawl), who has been brought to court but not told who her father is. Wouldn’t you know, she finds a friend in the mermaid and doesn’t like it when the King she’s grown to respect turns out to be less than noble when it comes to her new fishy pal.

Halfway through the movie, I was in deep despair because the acting was all over the map, and some terrific actors were delivering (more like hurling at the screen) performances that make you wonder if the job was taken as broad acting experience more than anything. Even the usually dry William Hurt (Winter’s Tale), as a priest and confidant to the raucous King, comes off as downright boisterous. It was at the middle mark when I realized that The King’s Daughter wasn’t for most audiences at all; it was for younger kids wanting to bridge the gap between animated films and more mature PG-13 content. Arriving in safe PG territory, the movie is ‘just so’ about everything, with nothing too extreme (aside from the overly zealous performances and Brosnan’s unruly wig), so parents could easily treat this one as a special event for their growing youngster. 

Aside from that, I’m not sure how many adults would go for this often ludicrous fantasy which is filmed and costumed to look like an Estée Lauder ad from 1996. Nothing about it seems quite fitting, much less the way the elite would have been adorned at court in Versailles. We all know the palace in France was the place to see and be seen, but the attire on display here is a trivial interpretation that often comes off as laughable. Take Scodelario’s big reveal dress, for instance. She’s meant to be wearing a gorgeous gown everyone is drooling over, but it looks like a frock you’d find the night before prom…and don’t even get me started on the shoes. Thankfully, Scodelario is acting the hell out of the role and bringing alone husband Benjamin Walker (The Choice, a dead-ringer for Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace). The chemistry they have is, understandably, believable. Though the effects often hide her, Fan Bingbing (The 355) manages to get some emotion through as the mermaid everyone is out to either save or, gulp, eat.

I’m sure many people involved with The King’s Daughter are just glad it’s finally surfacing after all this time. Fans of the book may not be thrilled because it sounds like the film diverts quite significantly from the original text, but the adaptation from Barry Berman and James Schamus makes it far more family-friendly. That’s what this one is targeted to and should be marketed for, anyway. If you meet the demographic that would enjoy this sometimes sloppy, often soggy fairytale, then I would say giving it a shot might be worth your time. Swim right by if the material doesn’t speak to you from the advertising alone. There’s plenty of fish in the sea.

Movie Review ~ Parallel Mothers

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two unmarried women who have become pregnant by accident and are about to give birth meet in a hospital room: Janis, middle-aged, unrepentant and happy; Ana, a teenager, remorseful and frightened.

Stars: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Rossy de Palma, Julieta Serrano

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Rated: R

Running Length: 123 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: In film history, there have been fine examples of actors and filmmakers who have become known for their strong working relationships with a particular actor. Scorcese and DeNiro (and DiCaprio), Allen and Keaton, Tarantino and Jackson, Hitchcock and Grant, Kurosawa and Mifune. All-stars and their directors with at least one film are mentioned in boldface whenever their bio is listed. After working on seven films together since 1997, you’d have to add Penélope Cruz and Pedro Almodóvar to that list as well. With the release of Parallel Mothers, the deck is reshuffled as to which project you’d put into the top position as the crown jewel of their working relationship. 

It all started with Live Flesh precisely 25 years ago, the same year she appeared in Abre los ojos, remade four years later as Vanilla Sky, where she’d recreate her work and begin her relationship with Tom Cruise. It was followed in 2002 by Almodóvar’s Oscar-winning All About My Mother before they re-teamed for Cruz’s first brush with an Oscar nomination in 2006’s Volver.

Several more films have been together, even after Cruz took home the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in 2008 for Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona. Still, while Almodóvar has always given the star some choice roles, it’s been a minute since she’s carried the film almost entirely on her own. After making his most personal film to date with 2019’s Pain and Glory and featuring Cruz as a proxy for his mother, Almodóvar is back with a vehicle tailor-made for the terrific talents of his international star. It’s taken me a while to completely hop on the Cruz train, stopping several times over the years to hop off and reconsider my travel plans, but with Parallel Mothers, I’m ready to jump on for the complete voyage. Representing the very best of what Cruz and Almodóvar do well both separately and together, this melodrama from Spain snags you right the start with a breathtaking image. It leaves you with another that will haunt you long after it ends.

That first shot is of Janis (Cruz, Murder on the Orient Express), a sought-after photographer in the middle of a shoot with, of all things, an equally famous archaeologist (Israel Elejalde). The obvious sparks are flying between the two. The chemistry on display eventually leads initially to Janis asking Arturo if he’d be willing to help her with a project close to her heart, that of finding answers to the mass burial of her relatives and others from her home village during the Spanish Civil War. Perhaps not the most romantic of propositions, but it leads to Janis becoming pregnant and finding herself a likely single mother giving birth alone and staying in the same hospital room as Ana (Milena Smit, Cross the Line), a teenager staring down her own unique set of entanglements. As the two women give birth almost simultaneously, they lean on each other for support, promise to keep in touch, then go their separate ways.

To say what happens next would maybe reveal a bit more than Almodóvar would like you to know going in. And really, it’s best to know as little as you possibly can because while I wouldn’t exactly describe the plot of Parallel Mothers as serpentine, it twists in on itself just when you think you’ve gotten comfortable. Plot developments allow Cruz and Smit to explore intriguing areas of what it means to be a mother and the striking questions when the unpredictability of life and human behavior get in the way of best-laid plans. The through-line of the piece is always the advocacy Cruz undertakes for the sake of honoring the memory of her grandfather and men of his village, and Almodóvar has put that political slant into this piece to call out the atrocities of war buried over time. The women were left to pick up the fragments of lives/love left behind, and as Almodóvar shows through images both easily explained and up for interpretation (like that aforementioned last shot) the toll this took over time.

Many actresses (and actors) in Hollywood will watch Parallel Mothers and wish all directors would turn a lens on them as Almodóvar does for Cruz. Capturing her impossible beauty is one thing, but allowing her charm and character flaws to come through is a bold choice, and it only makes the character more deeply felt and realistic. The film trades on some melodrama in style and overall tone around the middle section, but it’s a rhythm only someone that’s worked with Almodóvar could balance so evenly, and Cruz nails it. I think it’s the best performance by an actress of 2021 without question and indeed a kind of apex of Cruz’s career up until now. She’s matched nicely with the intriguing Smit, vulnerable at the outset only to return later as a creation more maturely mysterious. As usual, in addition to having fantastic taste in the look of his production design and costuming, Almodóvar brings in a dynamic supporting cast. As Ana’s mother dreams of stage stardom, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón gives the audience a third category of a mother who views the role quite differently than the Cruz or Smit characters do. Then there’s Almodóvar favorite Rossy de Palma, not quite as vibrant as she has been in past films but contributing the same strength to each scene.

At this point, it’s still up in the air if Parallel Mothers will play well enough to land Cruz an Oscar nomination this year. I think if she gets in, she’s winning it (though Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos is closing in on a lock) but being left out of a few key races doesn’t look promising. Here’s hoping she’s recognized for this shattering work and that Almodóvar gets a spotlight shoutout somewhere along the way as well. The movies he makes, even a short one like 2020’s The Human Voice, are so far above the norm; they should be more of an event when they arrive.