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Jane Eyre - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Jane Eyre
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

Only in the movies is an actress like the luminescent Mia Wasikowska rendered "plain" simply by giving taking away any makeup, giving her a matronly hairdo, and dressing her in comparatively drab clothing. The plainness of the title character in Jane Eyre is supposed to be a key point of the story -- as is the supposed lack of handsomeness by her would-be suitor (and employer), Rochester -- who happens to be played by the very handsome Michael Fassbender.

Therein lies the greatest problem with the 2011 version of Jane Eyre -- the latest among many. Although in the interest of full disclosure I will admit that I've never seen any previous version (nor have I read the novel on which they are all based), it does make one wonder what the point of it is. The best thing that comes to mind is the endeavor to bring the story to our current youngest generation who might otherwise dismiss other versions as too old to be worthy; one could argue, actually, that it's a fairly good reason.

And this Jane Eyre, though by no means without its flaws, is a fairly good movie if judged on its own merits -- which is the only way a movie should be judged anyway. The first step toward accepting it as it is, though, is simply to pretend its leads are not as attractive as they really are.

They're good at what they do, at least. Wasikowska may not be convincingly plain, but she's convincing in virtually every other way; it's due to her that we care about her character and what happens to her. The same goes for Fassbender the alternately guarded and playful Rochester, who becomes Jane's employer when Jane is hired as a fresh graduate of an abusive school as governess to his little girl.

Much of the first half of Jane Eyre, however, is devoted to somewhat clumsily stitched-together flashbacks, both to Jane's orphaned childhood under the guardianship of an aunt, who falsely accuses her of lying. It's because the aunt is eager to be rid of Jane that she sends her away to school, where we are to believe they plan to wrench the evil out of her. Her time at the school is clearly riddled with plight, but it's a plight that's brought up and then only barely touched on again through the rest of the film.

The bulk of the story concerns the relationship between Jane and Rochester, which is ultimately presented as the now-cliche question of are-we-friends-or-are-we-lovers. The two develop an emotional bond, particularly when Jane saves Rochester from the fire in his burning bedroom. But it is on this same evening that she -- and we -- begin to learn that this house she's in harbors some dark secrets.

There are moments when Jane Eyre can't seem to decide between being a period drama or a thriller, though most of the time it leans heavily toward the former. The housekeeper is played by Judi Dench, a character who only thinks she knows Rochester extremely well. Dench's presence always elevates anything she's in, but not even she can make her particular character seem vital, which is too bad.

That said, this Jane Eyre remains generally enjoyable, and certainly a pleasure to look at. Not only are the actors prettier than they profess themselves to be, but the scenery surrounding the places in which they live is often beautifully shot. That kind of makes this a movie featuring pretty people pretending to be plain while they live in lovely surroundings pretending to be drab, but at least they command attention, albeit occasionally for the wrong reasons. As period films go, this one is far from the best ever made but, thanks to the actors in particular, is still a worthy contribution to the genre.

Mia Wasikowska is a not-so-plain 'Jane Eyre'.

Overall: B
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