The latest film to jump into the stream of Hollywood remakes is Sophia Coppola’s THE BEGUILED — but this remake is different. First off, it made its debut at Cannes which automatically elevates its prestige. Plus, it’s written and directed by Coppola, which puts it in the fancy auteur category. Whether it is vocalized or not, there is a certain expectation held to Coppola considering who she is and for her to tackle a remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 original is definitely subject to close examination of her intent. The Oscar-winning director’s take on the Civil War revenge drama-thriller which follows a Union Soldier who is taken in and cared for by a boarding school for girls who are a mix of independen, repressed, curious, and let’s be honest, a little horny. It aims to be modernized and, from the looks of the trailer, is clearly Oscar bait. That said, some critics weren’t over the moon for her latest, while others were praising it for flipping the script on the pulpy original. Either way, critics dug deep into the film’s exploration of gender roles.
Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter shrugged the film off saying, “The story, then, is nothing if not melodramatic, but Coppola’s instincts never have inclined in that direction, so much of what goes on remains essentially uninflected dramatically and, as a result, without much impact.” He also preferred Clint Eastwood’s performance over Colin Farrell’s role of the wounded manipulative soldier: “Farrell doesn’t do all that much with the part, suffering painfully through the first stretch and not revealing anything behind the eyes to suggest what his scheming character might be cooking up. Eastwood had far more presence and subtlety in the role.” On the other hand, he throws some love to females, “The women fare rather better, with Kidman, Dunst and Fanning doing solid, if not special, work in the main parts.”
Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman is in line with McCarthy saying, “If you’re the sort of moviegoer who favors good taste over sensation, restraint over decadence, and decorous drama over porno leering, then you may actually like Coppola’s coolly pensive and sober new version of “The Beguiled.” But anyone else may wonder what, exactly, the movie thinks it’s doing.”
He goes on to dive deep into the movie’s intent compared to the original saying that Coppola “feminized” The Beguiled to the point that she’s really just pummeled it into the shape of a prestige movie, one that ends with a telling tableau of the film’s female characters posed in formation, like some Civil War sorority of the newly woke. Coppola, in attempting to elevate the material, doesn’t seem to realize that The Beguiled is, and always was, a pulp psychodrama. Now it’s pulp with the juice squeezed out of it.”
After reading through a handful of reviews of the film, there is definitely a “he said, she said” difference of perspective of the film — which makes total sense considering the shift of socially-minded, “woke” points of view in 2017 versus the portrayal of women in 1971.
In Stephanie Zacharek’s very insightful review at Time, she notices a new kind of Coppola film: “Though it borrows some of the gauzy mood of The Virgin Suicides, it’s essentially unlike any other Sofia Coppola film, a serene, supple picture that hits more than a few notes of despair.”
In the 1971 version of The Beguiled, its noted that Eastwood’s character is manipulating the women who are portrayed as nothing more but crazy and full of lust. Coppola shifts this narrative and leans more towards a “who’s zoomin’ who?” story and unpacks it from the female perspective. It is clear that Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning’s characters are more nuanced and have more control in this version. Zacharek dissects this in her review saying, “If men are manipulators, as many of our mothers have taught us, there’s a dark side to female desire, too. That may be what this sly, elegant picture is really about: The horror that the more we try to control nature, the wilder it grows, like vines spiraling out of control from between our fingers.”
She continues, “Coppola’s version works much better for the way it subtly nudges our sympathies, sometimes in conflicting directions. This Beguiled is neither anti-man nor anti-woman. Both men and women love the thrill of the chase, and each side has plenty to lose.” So basically, she’s saying that everyone in this movie is crazy — which makes for a good movie-going experience.
Emily Yoshida from Vulture was lukewarm about the movie saying, “As a thrilling yarn, it’s too campy to be suspenseful; as a revenge movie, it’s too polite to feel rewarding. It’s “about” men and women in the way that a shoe store is “about” shoes: It has them.” She also has her own take on how the women were portrayed, “Coppola purposefully keeps the women from straying outside gender roles, down to the classically feminine way they ultimately deal with John. She’s created an isolated, fundamentally peaceful matriarchy, where one never resorts to brutality, even when dealing with an enemy soldier and/or fuckboy.”
For Richard Porton from The Daily Beast, he didn’t see the film as a narrative of female empowerment, saying “Coppola has only tweaked the structure of Siegel’s movie and delivered a slightly sleeker, and only incrementally more politically correct, version of this tale of a wounded Union soldier who finds temporary refuge in a Virginia girls’ school whose ranks have been depleted as the fighting rages during the last phase of the U.S. Civil War.”
Collider‘s Gregory Ellwood, on the other hand, may not flat out say that this is a film of female empowerment, but the words in his reviews point in that direction: “The most impressive aspect of the new film is actually how Coppola flips the perspective to the female gaze in this respect,” he says. “Where Siegel’s pulp thriller saw John as a victim of an increasingly competitive and sexually repressed environment Coppola’s version provides a much more balanced perspective.”
He continues, “Coppola is under no obligation to execute anything other than what she set out to do: take a relic of late 60’s storytelling and refashion it from a contemporary female perspective. And in that basic respect, this new incarnation of The Beguiled succeeds.”
Man vs. Woman conversation aside, Alissa Wilkinson from Vox gives a totally different perspective on the film pointing out the humor in the drama-thriller that no one else seems to be talking about. “The Beguiled masquerades as a Southern Gothic tale, with all the requisite grotesquerie,” she says, “But beneath its frilly, corseted bodice, it’s a stone-cold revenge fantasy, laced with a potent cocktail of toxic comedy and pungent desire.”
From her review, it certainly seems that The Beguiled may edge towards the territory of high-end camp that drag queens and John Waters would adore. And why wouldn’t it? Have you seen the 1971 trailer? It might have been dramatic at the time, but by today’s standards, it’s funny as hell.
She continues, “But this is a comedy — a dark one, but a comedy nonetheless, in which a candlelit dinner table becomes a minefield of dramatic irony…It calls to mind a trashy and inconsequential romance novel, which, when punctuated with the film’s moments of violence, wounds, and blood, feels more hilarious than horrifying.”
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer