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Life So Far (1999)
There always will be coming of age stories. Since
childhood and the "formative years" universally constitute perhaps a quarter of
the human experience, at least in terms of time, it seems likely that there will always be
writers and filmmakers who will draw on that experience and share it on the silver screen.
That's well and good, so long as they have some golden thoughts to impart.
My Life So Far is about a
year in the life of ten year old Fraser Pettigrew, but, frankly, it felt more like
two or three years. One guesses that the screenwriter, Simon Donald (who has previously
written for television) telescoped the source memoir by Sir Denis Forman (a television
executive) for purposes of dramatic cohesion. He achieved the cohesion, but the drama is
All the ingredients
are present for something wonderful: an eccentric father (Colin Firth) who is capable of
talking the special language, "Dog," with his son; a beautiful, loving - and
wronged - mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio); a stern and crusty old Gamma (Rosemary
Harris) who is able to wink wisely at her grandson at the appropriate moment; an exotic
French aunt (Irene Jacob) and a rich, sensible, not very likable uncle (Malcolm McDowell).
The entire scenario takes place in a turreted, storybook estate on a romantic, storybook
Scottish loch in 1927, allowing for period costumes. If you are thinking Masterpiece
Theater, you've got the idea.
The events that
transpire pretty much all come from the Cliff Notes on coming of age stories. The father
has crank ideas to pursue, like dynamiting areas of the estate to mine sphagnum moss and
creating an underground chimney, which, predictably, ends up belching smoke through
cracked seams. Something wondrous has to happen, so a biplane soars out of the sky to land
at the estate, piloted by a glamorous, if not adequately explained or developed Frenchman.
There is a bogeyman. There is the buxom servant bathing the young boy. There is the
exposure to knowledge (if not experience) of sex. (These post-Victorians favor ice cold
dips in the loch to quell raging hormones.)
What is missing from
this encyclopedia of cliches is any particularly fresh insight into the events that
transpire, anything new or profound in the presentation of this boy's experience,
and, most fatally of all, dramatic momentum. The movie starts at a standstill and slows
down from there.
It seems a shame
really, since the film is so pleasing to look at and so much first class talent has been
rounded up. Colin Firth (Shakespeare in Love, The
English Patient), only gets the opportunity to display some serious thespian skills
near the end of the film, leaving one to think that had this been a more complexly drawn
character, the entire proceedings might have been a whole lot more interesting.
Mastrantonio is very different here from her recent outing in Limbo;
her versatility is apparent. She is subtle in her portrayal, glowingly beautiful, and
when, finally, she gets a chance to do some real emoting, totally convincing. Robert
Norman as Fraser is a charmer.
the whole production merely skims over the surface, characterizations are skin deep, and
conversations in Dog generally are rewarded only with Alpo.
- Arthur Lazere