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It's the late nineteenth century. Annie Miller, more regularly referred to as Daisy, of Schenectady, New York, is on a grand tour of Europe with her mother, Mrs. Ezra Miller, her precocious adolescent brother, Randolph Miller, and their manservant, Eugenio. It is at their stop in Vevey, Switzerland that Daisy meets Frederick Winterbourne, an American expat studying in Geneva. Frederick has mixed emotions about Daisy. On the one hand, he is captivated by her beauty. On the other, he believes her to be uneducated and improper in her modern American attitude and behavior, she basically doing whatever she wants regardless of the possible perception of impropriety by those in Frederick's social circle. That latter view is shared by Frederick's aunt, Mrs. Costello, with who he is traveling. Conversely, Daisy finds Frederick to be stiff. Regardless, Daisy does allow Frederick to spend time with her as they move from Vevey to Rome, Italy in their individual parallel travels. Through this time... Written by
sumptuous scenery, good performances, faithful to the original story
Many reviewers here seem to have confused the story and characters with the film and the actors.
Yes, Daisy in the film is rather flat and monotonous. But that's a high compliment -- that the ravishing Cybill Shepherd could so accurately portray such a flat character. Henry James at one point describes Daisy's expression as a "light, slightly monotonous smile", in another her voice as a "little soft, flat monotone". He says late in the story that "there was always, in her conversation, the same odd mixture of audacity and puerility". No, she wouldn't be a very pleasant person to be around for long. But that was part of James's point: that our attraction to people (especially those of the opposite sex) often defies reason. Shepard makes the point well.
Some have commented that they wished the story had been filled out. Some of those apparently haven't read the story. One of those critics even places the story wrong by forty years. Though called a novella, it's barely more than a short story. In fact the film does a remarkable job of portraying the events and (more importantly) the characters very much as they are in the story. The great majority of the dialog in the film is verbatim from the story.
In some instances, the scenes and characters were significantly expanded from the James story. How far should a director go, if the aim is to film a classic story, not just to make something derived from that story? James's characters were pretty flat, a lot flatter than those in the film. One could justifiably criticize the film for telling the story far better than James did.
Do you think James's story is dated and flat in the modern world? Well, in many ways so do I. A polemical assault on discrimination based on manners and birth is truly dated. Yet an assault on personal discrimination remains fully current. The modern world is certainly not devoid of personal discrimination. Perhaps it's not often so ugly, not in the first world anyway, but prejudice is very much alive.
James's story is also unsubtle: two groups of people with differing views, one person caught with one foot in each camp, unhappy results. That's about it. Should one film the classic story, or build something different? It's a choice; great films have been made both ways. The choice for this film was unambiguous: to film the classic story.
The photography is truly gorgeous -- the film (at least the outdoor parts) was shot on location in Vevey, Switzerland and Rome, Italy. Despite the long stretches of dialog, including Daisy's run-on commentaries, one need not strain to understand the words. If the story were as good as the production and acting (several good performances) then this would be a 10. The faithfulness to the original weights it down.
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