Girl with a Pearl Earring Review
By Christopher Null
Johannes Vermeer lived in a time of enormous creativity yet produced so few paintings - 35, exactly - that it's surprising he's remembered at all.
Unlike the romanticized "starving artist," Vermeer's household (in 1600s Netherlands) was extremely well-off, though little much else is known about him. Based on the popular novel, the film imagines the circumstances that might have led to the creation of Vermeer's most famous painting, "The Girl with a Pearl Earring," produced in 1665.
Unlike most recent movies about artists - Surviving Picasso, Pollock, Love Is the Devil - there's hardly a lick of truth to be found in Earring. Many scholars figure the girl in the picture is one of Vermeer's daughters (of which he had many), while the film posits the girl is a quiet maid despised by Vermeer's wife and lusted after by the artist and his sponsor. It certainly makes for a better story than a movie about a guy painting a picture of his kid.
Colin Firth plays a smoldering Vermeer. Though it's colored by Firth's usual display of repression, it's one of his better performances through sheer virtue of its uniqueness in his oeuvre. Scarlett Johansson is the spitting image of the titular girl, and though she has little to do in the film, she also turns in a worthwhile performance, casting aside her dusky rumble for the first time in exchange for a British(?) accent of sorts.
Barely 90 minutes long, the movie's only real failing is that it never develops a terribly compelling story. Vermeer recruits a maid to be a model? Teaches her how to grind stuff into paint, and develops an unhealthy fixation on the girl? I guess that'll pass for a plot, but it's hard to get caught up in the interplay between the two leads. They don't have a ton of chemistry, and the May-December/student-mentor story's been done to death. Earring plays out pretty much as you'd expect, which is funny, since it's completely made up.
At least Earring is a well-made film. Its cinematography, score, and the acting of supporting players are all top-notch. Earring will likely try to become The Hours of 2003 - making a play as an intense tale of love gone wrong amidst a period backdrop. Too bad that kind of intensity rarely comes across in a movie rated PG-13.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 9th January 2004
Box Office Worldwide: $31.5M
Distributed by: Exhibition On Screen
Production compaines: Wild Bear Films, Archer Street Productions, Delux Productions
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Fresh: 125 Rotten: 49
Cast & Crew
Starring: Scarlett Johansson as Griet, Colin Firth as Johannes Vermeer, Cillian Murphy as Pieter, Tom Wilkinson as Pieter Van Ruijven, Judy Parfitt as Maria Thins, Essie Davis as Catharina Bolnes Vermeer, Joanna Scanlan as Tanneke, Gabrielle Reidy as Griet's Mother, Chris McHallem as Griet's Father, Alakina Mann as Cornelia Vermeer, Rollo Weeks as Frans, Anna Popplewell as Maertge