With all but a few films, one can make an informed guess on the genre simply by the title. In the case of Enchanted April, the title all but screams “romantic drama”, a genre that I am normally less disposed to view than romantic comedies. So how did it wind up on my radar? Aside from just a general interest as a movie blogger to keep my viewing horizons broad, there was also the consideration that it was a Golden Globe nominee. Not as a drama, however, but under the comedy and musical category.
This is perplexing for a couple reasons. The first being that it scarcely qualifies as a comedy, except perhaps in the Shakespearean sense of “a story with a happy ending”. The second being that there isn’t anything special about it. In fact, it’s rather pointless.
A typical viewer might show less expression than this while watching.
In Enchanted April, a quartet of pathologically miserable British women decide to jointly rent a castle in Italy for the spring, despite none of them knowing each other well. The instigator is Lottie (Josie Lawrence), a woman who is prone to flights of fancy but who feels repressed by her miserly husband. She befriends a fellow churchgoer, Rose (Miranda Richardson), who is devout but is married to an inattentive, socializing writer of tawdry romance novels; she admits to herself at one point that she has grown to abhor him. They come up with the idea of renting the castle, and then rope in the stern and elderly Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) and young Lady Caroline (Polly Walker).
With these personalities, there are the makings of either a great drama or a great comedy in the mix, depending on how the writer chose to take it. But one would need a magnifying glass to find either here. There is some humor, but it’s so dry and quiet — far beyond even the normal British standard — as to be utterly ephemeral. There are comedies that make a person laugh loudly, comedies that make a person laugh softly, and comedies that make a person smile. If Enchanted April is to be viewed as a comedy, it’s a comedy that makes a person think about smiling. And if it’s to be taken as a drama, there simply isn’t enough of it to be worth mentioning.
The problem is the soporific tone of the film. The film’s core premise is that this countryside in Italy is so staggeringly beautiful and relaxing that everybody’s problems melt away and any negative traits they have are cured simply by their proximity to it. I’ll grant that the scenery really is quite beautiful, but it’s still an insipid and somewhat insulting premise. Worse, though, is that it destroys any life the film could have; the longer the characters are there, the less personality they show. Joan Plowright’s role as Mrs. Fisher is almost interesting in the beginning, when she’s obstinate to the point of boorishness, but by the middle of the picture, she’s essentially the same as the other characters. Even Alfred Molina, who plays the miserly husband, is eventually so restrained in his demeanor that he becomes nearly unrecognizable as the usually entertainingly hammy actor. There isn’t even anything interesting in their activity, as most of the film consists of them either walking around aimlessly, or laying in the grass giving an internal monologue about how wonderful everything is.
There are occasionally moments where it seems that the film is going for a comedic effect, but they’re so few and far between that they always seem out of place. Most of them fall into one of two categories in any case. Some are old familiar staples, such as a man being introduced to someone while wearing a towel after a bathing incident. Others are new, but suffer from the same lack of energy as the rest of the film, to the point where it’s hard to be sure a joke is really intended or not. The spaghetti eating scene is so inept that it almost has to be intended as comedy, but it fails to amuse, and is actually a little nauseating. If one is going to commit a crime against pasta, one should at least get a solid laugh out of it.
They’re noodles, folks. This is not that complicated.
The film was directed by Mike Newell, and the quality of his work is uneven through the film. The opening scenes and overall picture quality made it feel like it was a TV movie. In fact, it was exactly that in its native U.K., although it somehow received a theatrical distribution in the United States (hence its Golden Globe eligibility). But aside from a general sense of low production values, this isn’t the issue with the film. It is Newell’s judgment on how to focus and frame a shot that is questionable. When called upon to show how beautiful the Italian countryside is, there is no problem. The shots are gorgeous. When called upon to show people, however, it’s a more iffy proposition. Much of it consists of talking-head syndrome, where the camera is simply focused on one person talking ad nauseum with little indication of movement or external reality. Yet aside from a few decent (if unimaginative) walking scenes, those talking-head scenes are the good shots in the film. There are other times when the cameraman, apparently at Newell’s direction, goes for the extreme close-up. When Alfred Molina’s foot or mouth is filling the entire screen, it is very difficult to credit the movie with good directing.
I admit I am not the target audience for romantic dramas. But for those who are… surely there are better options available than this film. It seems to me that a romance should, at the least, assert something positive about life. This movie may have that as its goal, but there’s no life here to be found. The plot resembles a fairy tale where everything has been cut except “They lived happily ever after”, and all the characters appear to be under an opium haze. A film can have merit by having substance, or by being stylish, or clever. But Enchanted April has none of that; all it has is a few pretty pictures of the countryside.
And if that’s all you want, just get a brochure.