There are a million adaptations of Great Expectations, and Alfonso Cuarón’s is not the worst. It is, however, suuuuuuper 90s.

None of the essentials of the story are changed; Pip is now called Finn, and he grows up on the Gulf Coast. The part of London is played by New York, and Finn (Ethan Hawke) is an artist, because I suppose that’s how we update aimless Victorian young men. Estella is still called Estella, and she is still raised to be evil by the delightfully over-the-top Miss Havisham (Anne Bancroft as Miss for some reason Dinsmoor). Gwyneth Paltrow is an excellent choice for the grown-up Estella’s cold beauty.

As an adaptation it’s fine. Ethan Hawke is pretty good at hapless, and Chris Cooper is as usual great as Joe Gargery/Coleman. Robert DeNiro plays…Robert DeNiro, and incidentally also Abel Magwitch, whose adapted name I never caught and doesn’t matter. The Florida visuals are gorgeous, particularly, of course, Miss Dinsmoor’s grand tomb of a mansion. Soho is always rainy, Central Park is always beautiful; these are almost true. The rich ciphers of Finn’s artistic life are appalling. We are meant to be appalled.

So how is it super 90s? Well, Florida seems stuck in the late 80s and early 90s generally, so there’s that. And there is Ethan Hawke’s intermittent (terrible) sensitive facial hair. People still smoke, in buildings, in New York. Everyone (men and women) dresses like a high-powered lesbian. But mostly there is Estella. Gwyneth Paltrow wears every horrible knit outfit, every pair of atrocious mules, every ghastly hairstyle. She looks great (of course). But not only were the 90s a weird, bad time for fashion, they were also a weird, inexplicable time for feminism. Estella’s power, then, is more frankly sexual than we usually see, and she seems more in control, both of which are interesting and probably good. She does not, however, make sense. So…there’s that.

Stray observations:

  • Medium-aged Pip is played by Ethan Hawke in just the worst blond wig, and I’m not sure why.
  • The child actors are phenomenally well chosen, though. Both are eminently believable, and also not irritating as actors.
  • I think I liked the soundtrack. I’m not sure I knew a single song, and the lyrics seemed heavy-handed, often, but, well, Dickens isn’t subtle, and there was no reason for this movie to be so either.
  • Hank Azaria is Estella’s mark. It’s strange not to like or to laugh at him.

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Rating: R
Length: 111 min.
Score: 3/5. Too close yet too far? If you’re doing Great Expectations, you have to do better, or at least differently.

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