• Fri. May 31st, 2024

The Goldfinch

ByJasna Mason

Oct 10, 2019

“Maybe sometimes good can come from bad”: the closing lines of The Goldfinch could become an ironic ode to the film itself. Panned by critics and with one of the worst openings of all time in America, The Goldfinch is a bona fide box office disaster – but is it a complete write off? It’s difficult to say. The film is muddled; a collection of pictures, actors and themes that gives it a sense of many different films knitted together. To say that the film is a complete failure would be inaccurate but indeed the rare moments of artistic brilliance are suffocated by the film’s poorer
aspects that drag on with its lengthy run-time.

Holding up a weak opening is Oakes Fegley, who imbues young Theo with a grief-stricken stoicism that transitions wonderfully through to acceptance of his new family and comfort in his new home. Theo’s relationship with young friend Andy Barbour lights up the film’s opening, which follows his arrival at the Barbour’s following the death of his mother in a museum explosion.

The film hits some kind of stride late on with the introduction of the unforgettable Boris Pavlikovsky, a Ukrainian bad boy who introduces Theo to drink and drugs. Boris is a brilliant character, boisterous but equally capable of being soft and thoughtful in listening to Theo’s problems. We see him first played by Finn Wolfhard, who seems to thoroughly embrace his character’s New Order inspiration. Although sporting a ropy accent, Wolfhard is easily forgiven for this through his enthusiastic delivery. We yearn for Boris’s return when visiting Theo’s adulthood, and our prayers our answered when he arrives in style in the form of the Welsh Aneurin Barnard. His accent is undeniably improved and so integrated into the character it becomes strange to hear Barnard’s own accent outside of this role.

When Boris and Theo are together, the film takes off; their relationship is touching, electric and truly the heart of the film. It’s unclear as to whether it is entirely platonic or borders on the romantic with the feature of a kiss in their childhood that is then never particularly mentioned again. Indeed, Theo’s affection for the women in his life never seems to reach the same heights of his love for Boris, nor the intensity of his desperation for Boris to follow him when he leaves town. Ansel Elgort is, unfortunately, one of the worst parts of the film. Save a few scenes, it feels as if we’re watching him act, jeapoardising the audience’s immersion in the film. He’s a yawn inducing lead, and impossible to buy into as Theodore Decker, becoming entirely outshone by Fegley.

The film struggles immensely with its pacing. This may be an effect of adapting from a Tartt novel – her style is famously wandering and thoughtful, but on screen, time becomes confusing. It becomes impossible to distinguish what part of the story we are at. The climax arrives too late in the film leaving the audience disappointed and wanting more.

Adapting something as lyrical, introspective, and thoughtful as a Donna Tartt novel was always going to be a challenge. While The Goldfinch doesn’t necessarily rise to this feat, moments of pure gold shine through in the relationship between Theo and Boris and to write this film off would be to neglect this talent.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flick

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