FILM REVIEW: Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary (Sophie Barthes, 2015)

What is it that makes some unlikeable characters so goddamn fun to watch, while others make you wish they would just hurry up and die already? Unfortunately Emma Bovary (at least in this version) falls into the latter category. A bored housewife in the nineteenth century, she marries a doctor for his status, bemoans their country life, has a couple of affairs, and squanders all of their money (and more) on clothing and furniture. She’s basically Eva Longoria in Desperate Housewives but with way less sass and a lot more pretentiousness.

Woe is me in my easy life.
Woe is me, wah wah wah.

There are some interesting themes in Madame Bovary, and ones that were probably much more profound at the time, notably: what the hell can a married woman do with her time when she has no job, no kids, and a maid to do all the boring stuff? Evidently, the answer is sleep around and shop. Though in Gustave Flaubert’s ground-breaking novel Emma does have a child, this adaptation by Sophie Barthes keeps her childless which feels like a bit of a cop-out. For starters, the presumable lack of birth control at the time makes it difficult to believe that she could have affairs willy nilly with no repercussions, and surely the presence of a child would add greater depth to the storyline? Then again, maybe the filmmakers feared that to make her a mother would make her actions seem even more deplorable to viewers. But wouldn’t it have made her all the more interesting? To see that even a child couldn’t bring her satisfaction? This seems like a missed opportunity.

Rhys Ifans - the film's saving grace.
Rhys Ifans – the film’s saving grace.

Mia Wasikowska has played horrible characters before, in Maps to the Stars and Stoker, and in those performances she was stellar. It’s hard to determine how good she is here as the utter disrespect I have towards the character may be clouding my judgment, but by the end of the film I was sick of her. For some reason she plays Emma with an American accent, which made no sense whatsoever, especially when she isn’t even an American actress. This unusual choice just does not work in the way that Kirsten Dunst’s own accent works in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette because there is not one logical reason for doing it.

At least she doesn't shy away from an ugly cry.
At least she doesn’t shy away from an ugly cry.

As Emma’s three lovers, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Logan Marshall-Green and Ezra Miller all put in decent, but ultimately dull performances. Ezra Miller was way better as a psychopathic teenager in We Need to Talk About Kevin and Logan Marshall-Green was hotter in The OC. I don’t know what the other guy has done other than grow a creepy moustache. Rhys Ifans is the highlight as the wickedly cunning merchant Lheureux, and Paul Giamatti as Monsieur Homais is, as always, a pleasure.

Please just go back to mass-murdering.
Please just go back to mass-murdering.

There is the odd costume that looks stunning, but for the most part Madame Bovary doesn’t even look that good either. It’s dull and dreary though that was assumedly deliberate to mirror Emma’s life. It just made the film all the more torturous, however.

I did not once think "great shot" the entire movie.
Before the age of selfies.

Given that this is the only adaptation of Madame Bovary I have seen (aside from the recent contemporary spin, Gemma Bovery) it’s hard to say whether my gripes with it are due to the source material or this specific adaptation. It certainly acts as a cautionary tale, that is, don’t be a dick. But this time that’s not quite enough.

2.5 stars

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