Reviewed by Chris Galloway
Disney, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], subtitles: none, single side-single layer, 16 chapters, rated PG-13, 120 min., $29.99, street date 1/25/00.
Directed by Hugh Hudson. Starring Colin Firth, Mary Elizabeth Mastantonio, Malcolm McDowell, Irene Jacob, Rosemary Harris.
Colin Firth , Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Malcolm McDowell star in this delightfully charming comedy about the fun and awkwardness of growing up! Young Fraser Pettigrew has always been an adventurous child. But with the arrival of his sexy French aunt Heloise (Irene Jacob), Fraser enters a truly eye-opening summer of discovery as he learns some delicious truths about childhood and the comic eccentricities of his loving family! Also featuring Rosemary Harris, the great ensemble cast lights up the screen. Come join the Pettigrews as their lives are forever changed in one unforgettable season!
Coming-of-age movies need certain elements to work. They need a main character that we can all relate to, actually like and feel for. As well, you need other characters that should also be fairly likeable on average (or at least understood) that will guide our young hero through adolescence and into (in this case) manhood. You need these elements for a movie to work. Even when the child involved is a delinquent (like in The 400 Blows), these elements have to be present.
And that's what is wrong with My Life So Far, a film so caught up in catching wonderful cinematography and some wonderful images instead of characters to care about.
The movie is based on the true account of Denis Forman who I understand was the former director of the Royal Opera House. The name has been changed in the film to Fraser Pettigrew and why I am unsure. But it's not important. It follows almost one year of the young boys life at the age of 10. Taking place during the 1920s on the outskirts of a small Scottish village, we meet some of his family members right away, his mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), his sister (Kelly MacDonald) and his father (Colin Firth). They are a fairly wealthy family by the looks of things at their household. His father is an inventor and comes up with many different endeavors to make money and he must succeed because their place is pretty spiffy.
Problems come when Uncle Morris (Malcolm McDowell) arrives at the home to declare to "Gamma" (the grandmother) that he wishes to remarry. She is much younger than Uncle Morris (by like 40 years) but the couple seem to go together fine. Fraser's father, though also seems to take a liking to her and even comes onto her. This begins a slight friction between his father and Uncle Morris.
And all along we also have young Fraser already discovering women and "orgies" and prostitutes thanks to some of the books he has found. He even ends up telling of his findings at family functions, which are supposed to be inspired bits of comedy but come out more as desperate attempts to get us to love this kid. But I guess he's growing up.
Problem is I didn't care. The movie has no set focus point. It's supposed to be about our young narrator but he never comes off more as a sub-plot, someone that's "just there". The story seems more about the father than anyone else but he's still just a 2-dimensional character. There are no real characters in this movie, none that you can relate to or feel for. And at the end, which is probably supposed to have some strong "coming of age" effect, it falls flat and means little.
The film looks good, of course, anything filmed in Scotland looks good, even The 39 Steps. The countryside is beautiful and breathtaking. This offers some fantasy element to the film that works occasionally but the magic that the director Hugh Hudson tries to throw at us just seems to miss.
Acting is fair but nothing spectacular. Colin Firth, who I found more humouress in Shakespeare in Love, has little to work with here. His character is so plain and ordinary he might as well be just a walk on, unfortunately it's a walk on that lasts the length of the movie. Irene Jacob as the girl between father and Uncle Morris doesn't have much to do. She's a plot device that just shows up and causes all hell to break loose. Malcolm McDowell who can usually show up in the most mundane of movies and turn them into something extremely watchable (take Star Trek Generations for example) has nothing to offer here. While all performances are modest, there's nothing really here that can stand out.
And Disney has given a pretty bland DVD release of this film. It doesn't even meet up to their usual release. It looks like something they plan on just showing up in the rental store, which I can believe because I can't see too many people rushing out for this one.
It is presented on a single-sided, single-layered disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. And get this! It has been enhanced for widescreen TVs!! I guess it's something they're sticking to now.
While I usually get fairly pissed off at Disney discs because they offer nothing in supplements, they usually make up for it in the picture and sound department. Here, though, they don't even succeed in that. The picture is okay and better than average but it presents quite a few problems both in the print and the transfer. Print flaws are fairly constant mainly showing in flecks and bits of debris. What got me was near the end when lines actually went down the center of the screen. For a film fairly new that shocked me, especially when Disney did nothing for it.
Colours are bright and black levels are near perfect. Unfortunately smearing happens often and sharpness is not a strong suit because of it. Some close shots seem very strong and sharp but then long shots and some darker shots are incredibly soft. Near the end of the film, when winter comes, a lot of the characters wear wool caps, scarves, and jackets. Moiré effects and instances of shimmering occur whenever anyone moves about in them. The down conversion also presents jagged edges from time to time, but these only became bothersome in one scene where a plane sits in the background.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is also nothing to scream about. The film is very dialogue driven and relies on the forward stage more than anything. A bit of an ambience effect is given in the surrounds and one scene involving a blast seems to use a bit of potential. But it's not a movie that you should expect too much from. I didn't notice any real problems with it, it's just the movie doesn't call for much.
And for supplements we get notta, zip, zilch, zero. We get nothing. Not even a theatrical trailer. And like usual, no booklet. Pretty lame.
The movie is not much and fairly disappointing. Coming of age films, even bad ones, have a bit to offer but I found this one to be pretty dry and poorly executed. The same can be said of the Disney DVD. The package presents nothing of value and therefore I can't recommend it at all.
Current as of 2/29/2000
James Berardinelli's ReelViews--"The film doesn't offer many surprises or deep insights into human nature, but it possesses an easygoing charm and likability that overcomes such potential deficiencies."
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