The rants and raves of a teenage cinephile who is just a little bit obsessed with Catherine O'Hara and Hayao Miyazaki.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Notes on a Scandal (2006)

People seem to love movies in which characters mentally unravel throughout the course of the plot. Movies like "Rebecca" and "Gaslight" and countless others, which revolve around paranoia and secrecy, thrive and are often called classics...and I agree! The human mind is a crazy place and films that deal with it are often quite brilliant, especially giving its actors a chance to shine. However, if not done perfectly, these films often come off as manipulative."Notes on a Scandal" works on both the best and worst levels of its genre.

"Scandal" revolves mainly around Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), an old and traditional teacher who keeps a diary that chronicles her lonely existence. She befriends a new, young art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) and sees their friendship lasting forever. When Barbara finds Sheba is having an affair with a young student, she takes the opportunity to manipulate Sheba for her own gain. Things begin to grow tense and uncomfortable for Sheba and her family, as the secret between them becomes more and more lethal.

From the very beginning of the movie, we are drawn into Barbara Covett's psyche. She is a lonely woman, an extremely disturbed one, who seems to care nothing about people. It's implied that she is a lesbian, but it's never really clear if it's an emotional or physical lust that she has for Sheba. Either way, Dench wraps us in from the beginning and never lets us go, relentlessly toying with us. We hate her one minute, pity her the next - it's vicious, in the best of ways.

Cate Blanchett, in one of her most polarizing performances, I find absolutely brilliant. She displays the declining life of Sheba Hart so perfectly. Even when Sheba is making terrible decisions that we know are wrong we cannot help but root for her. The last scene between her and Dench, which many call too over the top, I find absolutely perfect. It's heart wrenching, terrifying, and ultimately saddening. Blanchett has been criticized for her histrionics but I find them justified...I really cannot imagine any better way to have done those scenes

Philip Glass's music just seals the deal on the tense atmosphere this film creates. It's frightening, scary, and just overbearing enough to make us feel uncomfortable. The writer and the director seem to know exactly what they want, and it's rewarding for the audience. The film is working as a thriller, a character study, and an acting showcase (for at least Dench and Blanchett) all at once, so well.

However, the movie is far from perfect. It's not a happy film but even so it sometimes feels overly manipulative. Also, some of the supporting cast was kind of weak. I just did not like the kid who played Sheba's young lover at all. I felt he was a bit boring and I cannot see why he was desirable to Sheba whatsoever. Also, you want over the top? The guy who played the principal in that scene with Dench. He was obviously having a lot of fun yelling all of his lines.

Nonetheless, though the movie isn't perfect, it's still quite fantastic and works so well on so many levels. Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett both give performances that I believe are possibly the best in their careers, the writing and music are tense, and it's all crafted quite marvelously. It's a horrifying movie that ultimately ends up being extremely sad.



  1. I think it's near perfect. I thought it would be boring. It wasn't. It was not really the film that I'm expecting - the slow, creepy movie.

    It's so tense that sometimes, the tension is unbearable.

    Dench is very human here. I agree on what you said that she is someone to hate her one minute, pity her the next. It's very very well-executed.

    I don't understand the hate for Blanchetyt. She's so underrated here. And I think this is her best work. Ever. She was just placed in he wrong category.

    I agree, the supporting actors was not really on the level of the two actors. And the boy Sheba had an affair with is pure creepiness.

    I like the confrontation scene in the end. So actress-friendly scene. It's so vicious, they're so vicious!

    In the end, it goes by so fast I want for more. Could have been my Best Picture of 2006 if not for Little Miss Sunshine.

  2. The book was a lot sadder, I think...the ending, the characters...but this was more bittersweet than outright hopeless. I liked it.

  3. I think Cate is excellent here precisely because of the "histrionics". It's unnerving seeing her like this and Judi is just excellent...but the film is just sad, sad, sad.


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