By Gregg Shapiro
Photo: Amazon Studios, Warner Bros.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did not read Donna Tartt’s novel “The Goldfinch”. Many who did tackle the nearly 800-page Pulitzer Prize-winning behemoth wondered how it is that Irish filmmaker John Crowley (who also directed the Oscar-nominated movie version of gay novelist Colm Tóibín’s “Brooklyn”), was going to bring Tartt’s epic work to the screen without turning it into a VOD series on Hulu or Netflix.
The answer can be found in the 2 ½ hour theatrical version of “The Goldfinch” (WB/Amazon Studios), which functions as a stand-alone piece of cinema. Visually captivating, with strong performances, and the ability to incorporate sly touches of humor in the midst of tragedy, the film adaptation of “The Goldfinch”, like the novel, may not be to everyone’s taste, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have wings.
Moving back and forth in time, “The Goldfinch” focuses on main character Theo (Oakes Fegley), before and in the immediate aftermath of the Manhattan art museum bombing that kills his mother Audrey (Hailey Wist). It follows him into young adulthood where Theo (Ansel Elgort) has reinvented himself, all the while haunted by inescapable elements of his past.
Theo holds himself responsible for Audrey’s death. They wouldn’t have been in the museum at the time of the bombing if they hadn’t been early for an appointment with his school principal because he got caught smoking. Theo carries this burden with him for years. Additionally, Theo also has in his possession the titular painting by 17th century Dutch artist Carel Fabritius. The painting survived the blast and Theo is advised by Welty (Robert Joy), an antiques dealer who was at the museum with his niece Pippa (Aimee Laurence), to rescue it from the rubble moments before he dies.
Now motherless and with his itinerant, substance-abusing, actor father Larry (Luke Wilson) nowhere in sight, Theo is taken in by the Barbours, the mother (Nicole Kidman) and father (Boyd Gaines) of classmate Andy (Ryan Foust). Just as he adjusts and settles in, Larry appears with his trashy girlfriend Xandra (out actress Sarah Paulson) and he is whisked away to live with them in Las Vegas. There he meets and becomes friends with Ukranian-immigrant schoolmate Boris (Finn Wolfhard). Boris, who is more mature and worldly than Theo, is equal parts good and bad influence.
When things become unbearable in Las Vegas, following the death of Larry (it’s all right to cheer when he dies), Theo returns to New York where he is taken in by Welty’s antiques dealer/furniture restorer business partner Hobie (Jeffrey Wright). Boris promises to meet Theo in New York, but he doesn’t. Over the years, Hobie grooms Theo to be his protégé. Theo also stays so that he can be close to Pippa, another survivor of the museum bombing, who is cared for by Hobie.
But, despite his bespoke suits, attractive appearance and professional manner, Theo is a mess. He has chemical dependency issues. He continues to have nightmares about the bombing and his mother. His great love, Pippa, has moved to London to be with her boyfriend (and get away from the memories associated with New York). He scams clients, including Lucius (out actor Denis O’Hare), who is not only onto Theo, but also connects him to the painting that was thought to be destroyed in the blast. Last, but not least, his reunion with the Barbours, following the death of Andy and his father, results in his engagement to Andy’s younger sister Kitsey (Willa Fitzgerald).
Then things take an unexpected and shocking turn when Theo is reunited, in New York, with the grown-up Boris (Aneurin Barnard), a leopard who has not changed his spots. To say more would give away an important plot twist that should be seen to be believed. Again, if you are looking for the kind of adaptation that fully honors its source material, “The Goldfinch” may be a disappointment. However, on its own independent merits, “The Goldfinch” has the ability to fly.
Peach Rating: 3 peaches – a just ripe peach