The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch ★★

Though not without a respectably earnest, beating heart, The Goldfinch is unfortunately upended by a scattershot screenplay that feels both overwritten and underdeveloped, settling for meandering mediocrity instead of achieving the engrossing epicness it so desperately strives for.

When your film is only 149 minutes long, yet it feels longer than the 181-minute Avengers: Endgame, 161-minute Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and the 169-minute It: Chapter Two combined, you’re probably doing something wrong. I haven’t read the 784-page 2013 novel by Donna Tartt that this film is based on, but from consulting with those who have, I get the sense that Peter Straughan’s underwhelming adaptation comes up short by attempting to compress all major plot points into one movie but devoting too much time to some and too little time to others. For almost the first two hours, The Goldfinch nearly wholly focuses on Oakes Fegley’s young Theo and his misadventures following his mother’s tragic death. While these scenes can feel listless and self-indulgent at times - a fair amount of the dialogue (including a recurring line uttered by Theo’s friend Boris that goes “Life, eh?”) comes across as painfully pretentious and platitudinous - it honestly isn’t abysmal to sit through. The pacing does lag, but a fair amount of the melodrama lands, and Oakes Fegley is a legitimately gifted child star, successfully anchoring the more tragic beats when the plot gets a tad unwieldy. There are a few truly standout sequences, primarily focusing on Theo’s interactions with Jeffrey Wright’s antique dealer Hobie and Finn Wolfhard’s roguish yet lovable Boris (who powers through an inconsistent accent). These scenes have a natural, youthful, coming-of-age charm to them, and when they’re strengthened by Roger Deakins’s reliably resplendent cinematography and Trevor Guerckis’s soul-stirring score, you really can’t go that wrong.

Unfortunately, it’s in the third act where the film seems to fall apart. Up until this point, The Goldfinch seemed content to take its time and build relationships slowly, relishing in the unpredictably of Theo’s youth. Multiple engaging threads are set up with the hopes that they’ll be paid off in the future but... none do. Theo’s relationship with Pippa, a girl who also lost her guardian in the same terrorist attack where he lost his mother, is woefully underwritten and underexplained. Furthermore, Theo’s entire relationship with his mother - the whole center of the film - is also left virtually undiscussed entirely, and the nature of the aforementioned terroristic bombing is never expanded on. Basically all of the subplots surrounding adult Theo’s relationships or activities (whether they concern his fraught romance with an old friend’s younger sister or his unintentionally confusing and murky underground art dealings) feel rushed and edited to death. Then, out of nowhere, adult Boris arrives, shares an earth-shattering, out-of-the-blue revelation, and whisks Theo away on a gang mission in Amsterdam that feels more at home in an action thriller than in this contemplative drama. As the film tries to pack so much into so little time, it draws out its last act considerably and feels like it keeps ending over and over and over. It’s as if Warner Brothers allowed the first two acts/hours to marinate to their full capacity in their rambling ruminations, and then suddenly remembered that there were about 300 pages left to adapt and subsequently tried to cram a plethora of plot points into a half hour of screentime. It’s overwhelming, and the rush-job clearly shows. It also doesn’t help that Elgort is a much less lively presence that his younger co-star, although he frankly isn’t given as much time or thoughtful material to work off of either.

By the end of the film, Straughan’s screenplay attempts to weave all of this inconsistency into some grand, elegiac statement about life and coincidence and meaning and greater purposes, but he just ends up tying a bunch of words into knots, and none of these monologues land the appropriate emotional impact. It’s a real shame, given the terrific technical traits on display, the strong coming-of-age foundation the film sets up, and the remarkably authentic acting in the first half (particularly from Fegley, Wright, Wolfhard, and Kidman - who plays the merciful mother of an old friend of Theo’s who takes him in after his mother dies).

Ultimately, The Goldfinch is more of a missed opportunity than an offensive cinematic disaster as some have proclaimed. It’s nowhere near perfect, and it really fumbles its adaptation in that third act, but I do admire the openheartedness of the film as a whole, and I truly believe there’s a good version of this story lying somewhere within this muddled execution. It’s a shame it wasn’t able to be salvaged sooner.

2019 Ranked

Block or Report

Zoë Rose Bryant liked these reviews