Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2008)

The Loss of a Teardrop DiamondTennessee Williams is the heart, mind, and voice of the South, and Jodie Markell has made an extraordinarily beautiful film of his screenplay, "The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond." Exquisite in its detail and dramatic force, the director does not shy away from Williams's view of a rotting, decadent, romantic Gothic Southland. And in Bryce Dallas Howard (with alabaster skin and raven-black hair) and Chris Evans, she has possibly the most handsome cinematic-couple since Dame Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun." This film is a great achievement, not to be missed.

Jodie Markell has created a period piece with timeless appeal! This never-before produced screenplay by Tennessee Williams came to light at the right time and in the right hands. Markell's insightful direction and Bryce Dallas Howard's brilliant performance transport the viewer to 1920's Memphis with its juxtaposition of high-class southern charm, architecture and posh parties to the inner turmoil brought about through the accompanying societal expectations. Howard's portrayal of a "fallen" southern belle, Fisher Willow, is both heartbreaking and breathtaking. The high-value teardrop diamond earring she wears which is lost represents Willow's desperate struggle to hold onto her inheritance at all costs -monetary and personal. The viewer is seamlessly transported into Willow's world of truth vs. lies, genuine vs. fake, awake vs. asleep... as she is forced to face her past and present demons on the journey of discovering her true self (and true love, ie Chris Evans) in the process. You don't have to be a Tennessee Williams fan to get swept away by this film!

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I find it strange (or maybe just typical for an antsy media world) that this film was shunned so widely, if not overlooked. Also, there seems to be a recurrent animosity against Bryce Dallas Howard as an actress that I find hard to justify. I can think of few others who are showing such promise at an early age.

And as for the screenplay that is the inevitable draw of the film, it certainly falls canonically among Tennessee Williams' lesser works; yet even his lesser works have always carried much magic, and an idiomatic command of poetic elegance that no American writer since has matched.

We all know well Blanche's ruminations about paper lanterns as a metaphor for magic in the world; people far smarter and wiser than me have called those words among the most deeply felt ever written in the English language. In this film, Fisher Willow has her moment too, hers more nuanced than the melodramatic flourish of Vivian Leigh's delivery. She pines for the company not of strangers, but of people who have meaning, who aspire to art and creation, and so forth. They are words meant to be heard spoken, rather than spit out in this no-name review on the Internet.

So all of that is to say, the best you can do is ignore the shrugging critics and watch this film. It does the legacy of Tennessee Williams justice, it is beautifully shot on a very low budget, and it is a fine performance by a budding actress who absorbs the playwright's intentions elegantly.

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Beautiful and exquisite Tennessee Williams script with wondeful performances and flavor of the period. A must have for Williams fans.

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"The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond," is a real gem but it is not for everyone. If you are not a big Tennessee Williams fan, you probably will not like it. If you are unfamiliar with Tennessee Williams, then you are better off watching "A Streetcar Named Desire," or "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Admittedly, this is not one of Williams' best stories. The reason the film works so well is the acting and directing.

I had seen Bryce Dallas Howard in a few other films but they did not prepare me for this absolutely thrilling performance. This is not just the best performance of the year but it is the best performance in the past several years. She brings the character of Fisher Willow to life the way that Vivian Leigh did for Blanche DuBois. In many ways Fisher Willow is like a young version of Blanche.

Fisher is a typical Williams' heroine. She initially comes off as a selfish, self centered, Southern Belle but underneath she is much more fragile than anyone suspects. Bryce Dallas Howard is able to bring this out with such complexity and nuance that we can sympathize with a character that we should not care about so much. Even in her best moments she seems as though she could shatter at any moment.

This performance alone is enough reason to see this film.

The story follows the familiar themes covered in other Tennessee Williams stories: loneliness, loss of wealth, fall from grace, and battling interior demons. The teardrop diamond could represent the wealth and status her family once had. It is not just a $5000 jewel. It is a symbol of what her family once was and what was once the old South.

Jodie Markell does an impressive job directing. Her style is old school. She knows when to let the camera linger and when to let the scenes play out. The film does not seem rushed and it never drags. The cinematography is gorgeous with burnished orange dominating the color palette.

"The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond," may not be one of the four best movies made from a Tennessee Williams story but it is not far behind. This is mandatory viewing for any fan of Tennessee Williams.

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