Retro Review: Sylvia

Gwyneth Paltrow returns the silver screen as she embarks to bring life to legendary poet Sylvia Plath.

The woman’s life was a tormented but strong one. Can the Oscar-winning actress embody such a troubled woman?

The film begins with the meeting of college classmates Sylvia Plath (Paltrow) and emerging poet Ted Hughes (Road to Perdition’s Daniel Craig). Their admiration for the written word and their involvement in the college’s poetry scene make the couple an ideal match.

After a whimsical affair, Plath and Hughes marry and the couple journey home to America where Hughes is exposed to the American way of life. Hughes is confronted by Plath’s protective mother Aurelia (Paltrow’s real mother Blythe Danner) and a dark secret from Plath’s childhood is revealed.

Eventually Hughes wins a prestigious poetry award and the couple has two children. Plath’s life is shuffled to the background much to her dismay as she watches the world around her crumble. She seems to be losing her philandering husband and her passion for poetry is deeply weaning. Plath struggles to cultivate a single poem while raising the children for a non-existent husband. How does Plath eventually sculpt out her masterpieces and why aren’t they at least some part of the real woman’s epic struggle here?

The sadness, screaming and depression housed within this film feels like an anvil dropping on your head from 10 stories above. Paltrow’s performance as Plath is poignant and some times powerful but also extremely hard to watch. For me the weakest part of “Sylvia” is Daniel Craig’s Ted.

His portrayal of the poet is bland, heartless and inept. We hate this guy from the first smooching scene with Plath. There are some scenes which make him at least appear human or have a soul but for the most part I was puzzled to what Plath ever saw in the man.

This couple was not “Ozzie and Harriet” but instead some sort of twisted version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Speaking of Woolf, the best scene in the film is when Plath and Hughes entertain some friends for dinner. The scene captures Paltrow’s portrayal of Plath to a tee and develops into a battle of wills.

Aside from the performances, the bio-pic of “Sylvia” is utterly forgettable. The lives of these legendary poets must have been utter disaster and it can be concluded by this film that Sylvia’s death was caused indirectly by Hughes himself. With that conclusion, one can see why the estates of Hughes and Plath both decided not to include actual poems by the couple in the movie.

In my opinion, that omission is what cripples “Sylvia”. For an audience to get connected with a biopic, the film must allow the viewer to embrace why we love the film’s subject so much. We needed to hear from the actual Sylvia and Ted and know what was going on in their hearts through their works.

There is so much to scream about when addressing a film like “Sylvia”. We needed a more heart-felt and thoughtful interpretation of this extraordinary woman than a soulless biopic which is what we got.

(1.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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