Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

02 September 2006

How I Learned to Drive / The Illusionist

I am well into my reading for this weekend. I finished Vogel's How I Learned to Drive this morning, I am through Chapter Three of Documentary Theatre in the United States: an Historical Survey and Analysis of Its Content, Form, and Stagecraft and I read Act One of Goethe's Faust.

That Faust. Goddamn it is boring. It gets a little exciting once Margarethe gets pregnant and all of that fun stuff, but all of the stuff before that: snore. I don't care how much influence Goethe had on continental theatre. It's still boring.

But How I Learned to Drive. That play kicks ass. It's moving, powerful and covers so many really interesting (and taboo) issues. I recommend this to everyone who reads plays. I can't believe I hadn't read it up until now. (And even now I only read it because we're teaching it in our Intro to Theatre class.) It's a play about sexual abuse and pedophilia; it's fascinating and superbly written. Vogel uses learning to drive as a metaphor for sexual experience and accumulating life lessons. As the character learns to drive she comes into womanhood and awareness of her own sexual power. It's really very interesting.

And last night I caught Neil Burger's The Illusionist, which I found boring, predictable and really silly. Rufus Sewell is excellent as Hungary's jilted Crown Prince Leopold, his line delivery getting the film's only few laughs, but Edward Norton is earnest as ever (that boy needs to loosen up.) Jessica Biel and Paul Giamatti are fine and give sturdy performances, but both are hampered by a silly script and poor Biel has hardly anything to do except look beautiful. I was delighted to hear Philip Glass's score (which is lovely and somewhere above and between his scores for The Hours and The Fog of War.) The costumes (by Ngila Dickson) look lovely, but the rest of the period's detail appears to have been too expensive for the producers to wrangle. The film is shot mostly in closeup and interiors, often only the faces of the characters are lit, hiding whatever art direction exists. The Illusionist is feebly directed, clumsily edited and while the special effects are occasionally eye-catching, the film is one dreary uninteresting scene after another. The plot, purportedly a mystery, is never mysterious, but the plot never even really matters because the audience never finds time to care about the characters so poorly is the film directed and cut.
Avoid.