Blockbuster Talk: Did Angelina Jolie Redeem the Mistress of All Evil in ‘Maleficent’?
This summer, two Grantlanders will gather to discuss the weekend’s mega-franchise, counterprogramming comedy, or teen weepie to discuss truth, spoilers (!), and the Hollywood way. This week: Rembert Browne and Tess Lynch go all-in on Angelina Jolie’s reimagined fairy tale, Maleficent. [Note: Grantland is owned by Disney. We’re talking about the movie anyway.]
Tess Lynch: Basically, Rembert, it took both of us two days to see Maleficent. I don’t know what happened to you on Saturday, but I tried to see a 7 p.m. show and hit some really stupid traffic. I then tried to see a 7:30 somewhere else, but the traffic only intensified and I went home when I realized I would miss the introductory 10 minutes of Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones. I was hoping that I’d get an explanation as to why they look like steak knives shoved under her skin, and that was my no. 1 reason for seeing this movie. (Spoiler alert: She was just born that way.) I tried again Sunday morning and was successful, but I left in such a hurry that I accidentally dressed like Maleficent in a black maxi dress because it seemed like the fastest thing to put on. The horned hat was more expedient than putting on sunscreen, but after fielding some complaints I took it off so that the people behind me could see.
Maleficent was pretty, wasn’t it? I especially liked the Moors at night; it was like a tropical rave. But for what’s basically a character study, all of the characters seemed really thin. Jolie is arch and imposing, but those funky-colored contacts and animated wings did a lot of the work. And what about King Stefan (Sharlto Copley)? I mean, what did young Mal ever see in that guy? He was such a schmo, and then he turned into an evil schmo. I really wished that we’d been given the tools to understand why she fell in love with him in the first place and how exactly he turned into a fur-coat-wearing paranoiac with a beard that looked like it had been nibbled at by raccoons. Even the fairies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville) struck me as sort of bogus. And poor Aurora (Elle Fanning) just sort of wandered around laughing like she was in a yogurt commercial. Did you catch Vivienne Jolie-Pitt’s scene as toddler Aurora? I also thought I saw Zahara standing around in a crowd scene, but I wasn’t sure.
Rembert Browne: Hey, Tess, let me get something out of the way now. I’ve liked every film I’ve seen in theaters, except for Crash. So when I saw the preview for Maleficent months ago, I knew if I saw it in theaters, I’d love it. Because going to the movies is the best. For this reason, I would be the worst film critic, perhaps ever. Because everything would get five stars. Because all films (again, except for Crash) deserve five stars. (Grantland Presents: Rembert’s Five-Star Movie Reviews, COMING SOON — once I pitch it, get vetoed, retool, get vetoed, and then do it on my Tumblr.)
As for my quick review of Maleficent: Five stars. I loved it. My hesitation to see it this weekend came not out of fear over the film’s quality, but more because this was the first uniformly beautiful spring weekend in New York in 2014, and the idea of sitting in a dark theater could not have been less appealing. But I had to eventually see it. So I grumpily saw it.
AND I STILL LOVED IT.
By the end of this back-and-forth, I’ll convince you that Maleficent was a good film and that every negative review of it is dumb.
For starters, as you noted with the beauty of the Moors at night, it looked like FernAvatarGully. So that was outstandingly pleasant to watch, especially in 3-D. (Yes, I saw Maleficent 3D, because why not take in all that the cinemaplex has to offer?) But the beauty of the film wasn’t what got me. Because anyone can make a pretty film. But not every film can make me hate men and giggle at the idea of a spinning wheel being a murder weapon and have an ending that I did not see coming until, let’s say, five seconds before the twist happened.
Tessleficent, I got emotional in this movie and I don’t know exactly why. But it’s probably something related to motherhood being important to me. Is motherhood important to you, Tess? If you don’t like Maleficent, do you hate child-rearing?
Lynch: Hold the phone! This conversation is messing with my mind. I cried literally every time I saw that commercial where the girl Skypes her dad from her college dorm room, and Maleficent left me totally cold. I thought I had a tender heart. I didn’t dislike Maleficent as a whole, but it definitely didn’t go to any Dumbo “Baby Mine” places. What did I miss?!
I will admit that Sleeping Beauty is a good one to reimagine from the villain’s perspective. (Pops, sorry, there are no villains! Just complicated people! Except Stefan — he was definitely a sociopath.) There are a lot of creepy elements in there already, like the fact that the only way to bring Aurora back to life is to kiss her while she’s sleeping. When your heroine’s napping for a lot of the plot as she is in Sleeping Beauty, it seems like a good time to flesh out the other characters. Jolie seethed a lot, though. I kind of wanted more variation from Maleficent, like messy crying and cackling, and maybe part of that is because Jolie’s celebrity has become so distractingly ginormous: I wanted to see her transformed, but that’s kind of impossible. She remained completely dignified, icy, beautiful. It wasn’t her fault — it was just how things were — but I wanted more.
Are you seriously so blissed out that you won’t even hate on Stefan a little? I mean, you seriously had no qualms with anything in this movie? I don’t believe you! You’ve been enchanted against your will! Free Rembert!
Browne: OK, you are very right about one thing. Stefan is very much the worst. And not just in the “bad guy who does evil things because betrayal is my moral compass” sense but more in a “I wish Angelina had a more charismatic villain to beat down; this guy has no redeeming qualities, why won’t he just die?” way. Why did she ever fall in love with him? I have to assume it had to do with a subtle Maleficent running gag: slim pickins.
So I understand what you’re saying. But we’re getting away from the main point in our Tedleficent Talk (these are getting worse), the fairy elephant in the room: Angelina Jolie, actress, as Maleficent.
With her grand entrance into the film once young Mal turned into big Mal, I wasn’t sure this film was going to work. I didn’t really like whatever accent she was trying to pull in the beginning and I really didn’t enjoy the way she wailed like Kerrigan, post-Tonya goons when her wings got clipped. There was a lot of worry in my corner, because after the first 20-30 minutes, the weakest link was Jolie.
But then we got MADLEFICENT. Jolie out for blood. Jolie making kings bow to her. Jolie looking at babies and telling them “I hate you.” And Jolie turning servants into birds and children into floating sleeping creatures mid-sentence, whenever she so sassily saw fit.
I couldn’t have been more in on Jolie as a pissed tyrant. “Bitter” isn’t the easiest emotion to pull off on camera, but eventually, I think she nailed it. Which, in turn, made her transformation into the soft, caring, ultimately remorseful Maleficent actually work. Because she wasn’t actually evil. She was merely a fairy scorned.
Did you not feel any of this, Tess? Were you able to see Maleficent the character without seeing Jolie the institution? Are you ready to address the rumors that Maleficent is a giant metaphor for Sheryl Sandberg? And more importantly, did you think Maleficent’s crow-man servant was going to be the one to kiss Aurora or was that just me because I embarrassingly pick up plot twists like a walking, talking arcade claw game?
Also, before you answer that, what previews did you get? Please tell me you got that Planes: Fire & Rescue pile of hot garbage starring Dane Cook’s voice? PLEASE.
Lynch: Oh, I totally thought that crow-man (Sam Riley) and Aurora were going to make out, even when he got in close and murmured, “I’ve known you since you were a baby.” I also thought it was possible that he and Maleficent would get together, or that she’d run off with one of the tree-face guards. The tree-face guards got zero love.
Maleficent is definitely leaning in (and in the fairy tale, Aurora wakes up to patriarchy). #BanBossyFairies. But really, I couldn’t see past Jolie the institution, even when her accent softened like her heart toward the toddler on the cliff. You know what I wanted? More monologues. I never thought I’d say that. I kind of wanted Maleficent to get Sorkin-y and stroll through crumbling landscapes while talking really fast and reading the newspaper. Lean in with your words, Maleficent!
My previews were important: Transformers: Age of Extinction played, and I heard two kids whisper (not whisper, actually — there was no whispering in my theater of children, and most of what I’m saying is influenced by what I heard two 5-year-olds say to each other during the movie — thanks, bbs) “I really want to see that,” and then I heard a mom say, “Absolutely not.” Which is interesting, because Maleficent is definitely going to give some of these kids nightmares and make them throw away all of their iron trucks. IT BURRRRNNNNS. Much tamer was a trailer for Big Hero 6, and it was a very successful sell. It stars Baymax, a fat robot whose thighs rub together when he walks, and takes place in San Fransokyo. It was such a good trailer I Googled it. I hate missing piles of hot garbage, though, so now I’m watching Planes just so we’re living in the same humid Dumpster. I blame anthropomorphized vehicles for all of my childhood breakdowns when my parents traded in their cars. It’s like how Toy Story and The Velveteen Rabbit subtly inspire you to grow up to be a hoarder because all of the things in your closet have feelings and cry as soon as you tape their boxes closed and dump them at Goodwill.
So, which villain should we edit next? What about angry, baby-stealing Rumpelstiltskin?
Browne: This is who we should edit next, Tess. Without question.
The whole “this is the story of Maleficent that you didn’t know” redemption vibe to this film would be purrrrfect for Scar (that’s a cat pun). Can’t you see him, sitting in his lair watching The Lion King on VHS, being all, “How convenient of them to leave out the backstory of Mufasa and me. YOU PEOPLE DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT MUFASA DID TO ME. I USED TO BE A FLYING LION, YOU BARMY ARSEHOLES. THAT IS, UNTIL MUFASA BIT MY WINGS OFF BECAUSE HE WAS JEALOUS I COULD FLY. BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW THAT? ALSO, HE KILLED MY HUSBAND.”
Wait, can we not publish this? I want to write this. This script is my direct path to wealth.
Lynch: Rembert, when we started this conversation I knew that we’d become closer friends. I knew that we’d probably disagree, but that we’d come together in the end. What I never anticipated was that we would join forces to co-write the next Disney blockbuster and reclaim Scar’s reputation while also making enough money that we can create a cross-country zip line between our cities of residence. I think we can still publish this, because Facebook has taught me that if you just say, “THESE IDEAS AND THE INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN ARE MY SOLE PROPERTY, DO NOT STEAL THEM,” you’re pretty much covered. Shake on it: We have a deal.
I’ll check back with you in a few hours, after I’ve cobbled together some scenes of Scar, sad and ruined at a jungle saloon, set to some mellow bad-guy jams. You can pick it up from there.