Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ibsen's The Wild Duck gets a modern-day update via Simon Stone's THE DAUGHTER

The Wild Duck is among Henrik Ibsen's trickier plays. I've never seen a fully realized, thoroughly believable production of it, either on stage or at the movies. As I recall, the German/Austrian film from 1976, starring Bruno Ganz and Jean Seberg (her final screen performance) comes as close as any. Now we have a modern-day version of the story, adapted and directed by Australian theater director Simon Stone (shown below), which is credited as "inspired by" the Ibsen play and said to be based upon Stone's earlier theater adaptation, which I have not seen.

I have seen THE DAUGHTER -- Stone's filmed version of his adaptation -- and it is a terrible disappointment. It takes everything that is most melodramatic about The Wild Duck and runs with it. To disaster. (Ibsen always included plenty of melodramatic elements in his work, but his smart, thorough, explorative dialog was able to rise above sheer melodrama.)

Further, the filmmaker has seen fit to telescope the play pretty drastically, which highlights the melodrama even further. And he has loaded some of his characters with additional baggage, particularly that titular "daughter" (who is older here and has a problemed boyfriend in tow), perhaps to make what happens seem more understandable/palatable. This, too, simply stacks the melodramatic deck more heavily.

The tale told is of two families joined by seeming friendship and employment but who share a much heavier-duty bond. Which, of course, will be revealed in due course. Rich guy (Geoffrey Rush, above) heads one crew, poor guy (Sam Neill) the other.

When rich guy's estranged son (Paul Schneider, above) pays a visit, ostensibly to celebrate his dad's upcoming wedding, that son gloms on to a family secret (and gloms far too easily, even for melodrama), after which a bubble of trouble blooms and bursts.

Now, Rush, Neill and Schneider are fine actors. So, too, are the women in the film -- Odessa Young (below) as that daughter, Miranda Otto (above) as her mom, and Anna Torv as Rush's about-to-be bride -- but all they have to work with here is a screenplay full of "feelings," since Stone has seen fit to remove, change or streamline Ibsen's most telling dialog into fast-food fodder.

The film's best performance comes from Ewen Leslie, shown below, left, as Otto's husband and that daughter's would-be father. Mr. Leslie gets the most to do, say and (of course) feel, and he is quite good -- until the finale, at which point this sodden melodrama eats him alive, too.

The-big-family-secret genre is such a tricky thing to carry off that it is probably best left to soap opera and the like, in which we expect the worst but also expect it to be a lot of fun. All that occurs (and is made so very much of) in The Daughter begins to register as far too close to camp. This sort of thing shouldn't happen to Ibsen, nor even to, well, a duck.

From Australia and running a thankfully short 96 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, January 27, in New York City at the Cinema Village and the following Friday, February 3, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal.


Ruth D said...

I'm an Aussie who only made it 34 min into the film (a third) before I decided it wasn't worth any more of my time. From my limited exposure I would definitely agree with you. Goodness knows why the majority of critics loved it - but then Forest Gump was lauded and I found that contrived rubbish.
Tho I love Ibsen I don't think 'The Wild Duck' was his greatest triumph. Nonetheless it is his ability with word crafting and dialogue that make Ibsen compelling - and that is definitely missing in Stone's screenplay. Apart from getting no less bored as I continued to watch, and finding the characters pretty flat/two-dimensional, there was nothing to draw me in enough to want to learn more about these characters. Perhaps Stone has not yet got enough experience yet to adapt a difficult Ibsen play. Perhaps he should have tried, say, something like The Enemy of the People, or A Doll's House. What a waste of Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill & Miranda Otto, for a start!

TrustMovies said...

Thank for commenting, Ruth D. from Australia. I agree with all you say, too. The Wild Duck is not my favorite Ibsen, either, but the original is one hell of a lot better than this "adaptation." Unless one loves campy melodrama, of course. Hope you find something better to watch soon. If you're a Netflix subscriber, perhaps try the new series, The Queen's Gambit: quite tasty and very well done.