The Affair of the Necklace Movie Review

There are inherent risks in making a costume drama -- giving everything too much weight, and not getting the mood just right. The opportunity for grandiose accents, overly lavish wardrobe, and stagy, oh-so-clever performances are there for the suffering, and many such films deliver snickers rather than oohs and aahs (I still believe Elizabeth to be one of those). The Affair of the Necklace falls right into that category as well, dealing with the French aristocracy with a heavy hand and far too much giggling.

Perhaps the problem is director Charles Shyer, a guy known for his comedic streak, both as the man behind the Father of the Bride movies, and as a writer working with wife Nancy Meyers (The Parent Trap, Baby Boom). With Shyer's swing over to drama, it's tough to tell if parts of The Affair of the Necklace are supposed to be funny.

Indeed, there are times when this circuitous tale of a woman's fight to retain her family name and home are almost a farce. Hilary Swank, as damsel-in-distress Jeanne de la Motte Valois, holds up her end, usually striking the appropriate tone at the right time. But supporting players Jonathan Pryce as the lecherous Cardinal of France, and Christopher Walken as an ominous, flaky clairvoyant drew laughs from the audience, and rightfully so. Pryce's come-hither looks and raised eyebrows are a hoot, and Walken's ridiculous line delivery is overdramatic enough to cause chuckles every time. (But he's still cool -- hell, he's Walken).

Are we supposed to laugh? Perhaps yes, but sometimes, no, I think. The usually excellent Brian Cox (L.I.E.) delivers the voiceover narration, describing Jeanne's grand plan to intercept an enormously valuable necklace, ingratiate herself into the upper crust of France, and be able to buy back her family estate. His timbre is stern and believable, but first-time scripter John Sweet gives him some fairly heavy dialogue at times. His telling of the story seems to give so much gravity to Jeanne's plight, and its subsequent results (it's said to be based in fact) as to make us sneer, or even worse, feel apathetic.

There are some sharp performances in The Affair of the Necklace, most notably Joely Richardson as the playful Marie Antoinette. She appears to have such fun with the Queen's upturned nose and dramatic downfall that I'd rather see a complete movie about her, with Richardson in the role. At least her performance is presented clearly enough to know when to take her seriously, and when to enjoy a good laugh.

Ultimately, the film appears to want it both ways -- subtle laughs and dramatic flourishes -- and it just doesn't meld, especially when various cast members handle it differently. Shyer could have tightened the actors' creative reins a bit, along with the meandering story, but alas, we instead get an all-too-much Affair to forget.

The DVD is even more cryptic -- maybe the only costume drama in history to have a gag reel attached. French historians will enjoy the extra nuance of the deleted scenes and feature commentary, but casual viewers will probably find the extras as tedious as the film itself.

Watch the hands, buster.


The Affair of the Necklace Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2001


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