Monday, July 19, 2010

Day Seventeen: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #242
Year: 1966
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.


  1. Cinematography is bad.
    However, Elizabeth Taylor's performance is flawless. To call her melodramatic would be like saying that Gloria Swanson is over the top in Sunset Blvd... Duh!
    Martha is a very VERY disturbed woman.
    The thing I hate about this review is the fact that I'm left to tell you the one thing that I HATE to say in an argument. But it seems like you just didn't get it.
    The point of this movie was not to be deep or cathartic or have a message.
    It's supposed to be an intriguing look into the human mind only put into ridiculous situations thus turning it into a dark comedy.
    Now, I could understand if you don't like that (in which case you really probably wouldn't like any of Edward Albee's writing) but this movie is brilliant.
    It's been on the 250 for a LONG time now.

  2. All fair points, especially about Martha. I *get* her performance, but wasn't as sucked into her character as I was by Norma Desmond. And I agree with you that this isn't a movie with a catharsis, like I said, "I'm not saying movies are supposed to have messages or anything, this just really feels like one that would." (wow, quoting myself, what a douchebag, right?) Again, I just kind of thought this movie WOULD give me some kind of a message, or at least some big payoff, after the 2+ hours of insanity it put me through. I really liked the writing, but I would almost rather just read the play than watch the movie again. And I know it's been on the list forever, but still, it's 8 spots away from NOT being on the list, meaning it's 8 big new movies away from getting the boot. That's all I mean by that.

    Whew. That covers it I think haha. If that's not satisfactory, well, to each his own!