Everyone loves a good bodice-ripper, but what happens when it stars two of the most drooled-over actresses in the world and manages to keep a PG-13 rating? The film gets lukewarm reviews from blue-balled critics, which is exactly what happened to The Other Boleyn Girl. Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson play Anne and Mary Boleyn in the film adaptation of Philippa Gregory's best selling novel. Despite the fact that Portman and Johansson give excellent performances, reviewers found the film flat, over-edited, and sorely lacking in Pretty-But-Serious Actress flesh. Can two beautiful women be entertaining without showing their breasts? Also: Why do critics hate Eric Bana? The reviews after the jump.
...Feminist subtext aside, the movie is primarily an excuse for ogling some blue-chip actor-flesh. Portman's heart-shaped face, Johansson's cushiony lips, Bana's furry sternum are all handsomely framed in high definition [...] For a movie whose story hinges almost entirely on sex, [it] is disappointingly demure, with elliptical talk of "improper intimacies" and love scenes that cut away after the first kiss. In order to keep Henry's attention in bed, Anne confesses to her sister at one point, "I have to resort to ever more degrading ..." Ever more degrading what? In an attempt to preserve its PG-13 rating and, presumably, its preteen-girl audience, the movie muffles its own raciest moments.
At times it strains to be a stately period drama about 16th-century political intrigue. Then it devolves into soap opera muck and emerges as a rather tame bodice ripper. It's not that a good production can't be both a thrilling tale of historical intrigue and sensual adventures, but this film doesn't convince in either category.
The Other Boleyn Girl might, for instance, have gone the route of Showtime's The Tudors, upping the ante on the sex and subterfuges and taking delight in its own perversity. But, despite an occasional feint in this direction, the film never really does this either. For a film about lust, it's oddly chaste: Neither Mary's couplings with Henry (gauzy, soft-focus affairs conducted to murmuring strings) nor Anne's (a quasi-rape) could properly be called "sexy." And the film's tidy moralism might have been borrowed from an after school special in which the Good Girl and the Bad Girl vie for the love of a Popular Boy—only with more miscarriages.
King Henry has been lightened up considerably from the womanizing lout of the book, but he's still a cheerless presence, and there isn't much that Mr. Bana can do about it, apart from making him handsome.
Then again, I usually can't help groaning when I see Eric Bana: Even though we're all used to a fat Henry VIII, I could probably forgive Bana for his ripped torso (which is, incidentally, briefly on display here). What I can't forgive is his recurring dullness (I always want to add an "l" at the end of the name). Bana plays Henry as an arrogant stallion — he's less like a king than like the entitled young bozos on Wall Street who feel it's their duty to look a woman up and down appraisingly when she walks into a room. I like the idea of a sexy, seductive Henry VIII, but Bana is just a cutout pinup. (Philip Seymour Hoffman could have been 100 times sexier playing this role in his bathrobe.)
It's a marvel that something that feels so inert should have so much frenetic action. Shot in high-definition video with a murky brown palette (perhaps to suggest tea-stained porcelain and teeth), the film is both underwritten and overedited. Many of the scenes seem to have been whittled down to the nub, which at times turns it into a succession of wordless gestures and poses. Given the generally risible dialogue, this isn't a bad thing, despite Mr. Morgan's previous credits (notably The Queen). Ms. Portman's eyes, Mr. Bana's hands and Ms. Johansson's chin all receive vigorous workouts.