Director John Crowley’s follow-up to the lovely, heartbreaking 2015 romance “Brooklyn” is an ambitious one. “The Goldfinch” is based on author Donna Tartt’s nearly 800-page, 2013 novel that won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
This film version is an epic soap opera, with a 1654 painting of the title bird at its epicenter. The painting has survived numerous disasters over hundreds of years, continuing to be passed on from one loyal owner to the next. The latest person to posses it is young Theo. Following a terrorist bombing at NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Theo (played by “Pete’s Dragon”’s Oakes Fegley) rises-up from of the ashes of the rubble (literally) and is told to take the painting by a dying patron. The last memory Theo has of his mother, who was also killed in the bombing, is the two of them admiring the painting.
Theo’s saga, which takes him all over the world, takes place in both present day and through extended flashbacks. Ansel Elgort plays the adult Theo, who’s been fighting personal demons since that fateful day when he was a kid.
A bunch of different movie themes and genres are smushed together to make-up “The Goldfinch”. There’s tragedy, mystery, violence, romance, friendship, betrayal. And there isn’t a vice that this movie ignores. Alcoholism, drug abuse, crime, gambling, forgery, cheating in relationships — it’s all here! And everything comes back to… that painting.
It’s all watchable, but at no point does “The Goldfinch” actually allow your emotions to fully grasp onto anything substantive. The story never stops moving. Peter Straughan’s screenplay is so forceful, heavy-handed and connective that we’re not allowed to think on our own. Don’t worry about connecting the dots. They’re all connected for us.
Fegley does a nice job as the lost boy. Elgort looks too much like a fish out of water in every scene. He lets the material overtake his ability to actually give a quality performance. Nicole Kidman, as the mom of Theo’s friend, has been the motherly figure in so many movies that she can do this role in her sleep.
And it’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” deja vu for Jeffrey Wright. That and “The Goldfinch” are Warner Bros. dramas based on novels about a boy in New York City who’s lost at least one parent and must go on a journey of self-discovery (with Wright’s assistance). Luke Wilson and Sarah Paulson make the vibe even more uneven.
“The Goldfinch” isn’t a painful experience (unless, I imagine, if you LOVE the novel). But unlike the inspirational work of art at its core, it just never comes-off as genuine.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Goldfinch” gets a C-.
Running Time: 149 min.