Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #242
Director: Mike Nichols
Starring: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor
Well, well, well. Two days, two movies in the bottom ten of this list, and therefore, two movies that will inevitably be dropped from the list in the next couple of years as more well-received movies come out. Fortunately for us, we're able to discuss this movie before it vanishes from the list – poof! – and is inevitably forgotten by time. This movie is worth discussing not particularly because it's one of the greatest movies of all time, but because it's one of the most unique.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? boldly challenges the viewer with scene upon scene that would certainly be considered "boring" today. In just over two hours of film, just over six hours of real time elapse. Four actors are billed, and only two additional people ever appear, each for less than a minute. There is almost no action, and what action there is – each time in the form of someone trying to strangle their spouse – gets broken up immediately by an interloper. All of the interest lies in the dialogue, which is entirely drunken and occasionally insane. Frankly, I can't even figure out if the movie was supposed to have a message, or if it was just to show an two couples getting absolutely shitfaced together and the older couple depressing the living hell out of the younger couple and showing them what little they have to look forward to.
If there was a message, I suppose it was that married life brings out the worst in (some!) people, and that alcohol can bring decades of suppressed rage to the surface. It could also be that some people, here being Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's characters, are completely stark raving mad, crazy enough to – SPOILER ALERT! – invent a fictional child and let him grow for sixteen years in lieu of having one of their own. Either one of those messages is pretty terrible, so I'd prefer to think this is just a movie without any real message. I'm not saying movies are supposed to have messages or anything, this just really feels like one that would.
Instead, this film is all about the four performances, which some have called four of the finest performances in film, a suggestion with which I will respectfully disagree, and about the marvelous script that the Edward Albee play of the same name lent them to work with. Richard Burton is on top of his game, Elizabeth Taylor is a little too melodramatic for me to stomach at times, Sandy Dennis is a little annoying but acts EXACTLY like a drunk girl so I'll give her props for that, and George Segal could have been a cardboard cutout of George Segal and the performance would have been of a similar caliber. There, I said it.
I won't call this movie overrated because, as far as I know, no one really rates it all that highly. (#242 is not THAT impressive, settle down) I won't call it great either, though. It only has a few tricks to pull out of the bag, and since they're executed at varying levels of greatness and not at a consistently high level, I can't give it the "masterpiece" tag. I just won't use the word that lightly.
The Good: Richard Burton's performance and the fantastic script.
The Bad: Cinematography is pretty awful. This could be a radio broadcast and I would be as riveted.
The Skinny: Soon it will be gone, and that will be just. Sorry, Virginia.