Even if I give a movie an F or an A+, I’m willing to accept why someone else might love or hate that same feature. Even pictures I’ve found completely insufferable or life-changingly astonishing. I don’t like peanut butter, but why should I be concerned about someone who does like it on their toast, right? The Goldfinch is a harder case, though, because I seriously don’t understand its negative reception. I truly don’t.
The Goldfinch is the life story of Theodore Decker played by Oakes Fegley, a kid who’s no older than a preteen when his mother is killed in an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The last thing she did with her son was talk to him about the painting known as The Goldfinch, a 350 year old painting that survived an explosion that killed its artist. Theo realizes in the wreckage, from a dying man, that this painting survived this explosion too, and feeling a connection to his mother from it, Theo takes it. What ensues is him having to come to terms with the fact his life’s changed forever, and whether it’s the generous and kind and slightly wan Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman) or his estranged father Larry (Luke Wilson) and his new wife Xandra (Sarah Paulson), none of his new guardians can replicate his mother, and he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be a repaired kid.
Two-and-a-half hour dramas are like the riskiest of gambles. Just like how you earn or lose everything in those cases, you often either love them or curse them for draining the patience out of you. In fact, two and a half hours is pretty much my limit for how long I can take a movie unless I’m supremely interested in seeing it. So I almost passed on The Goldfinch until a friend of mine said her mother hated it. In that case, I guess the book must be golden.
The movie admittedly begins slowly. As Theo adjusts to life after the explosion, we’re given some talks about the famous art like the music of Glenn Gould and the subtle art, what goes into making homemade furniture. But this was uplifting in a way no one else can say; I’m related to Glenn Gould. If you don’t know who he is, he was known as Canada’s greatest pianist. Like me he had autism, and he loved the piano so much, not being able to play was the only suitable punishment from his parents if he was naughty, and he wore gloves at school to protect his hands from any sudden calamity.
But back to the review. This movie bounces around times, Theo’s role constantly switching from Oakes Fegley to Ansel Elgort. Why it works is the movie is smart with knowing which plot points work best together in tangent and how to tell its story in a way that makes us anticipate what they’ll show us next. Displaying this story in chronological order would’ve made it anticlimactic when we get to Elgort as Theo all grown up, because some of the last scenes in the Fegley storyline are so special, so chilling, it wouldn’t have made sense to still have an hour and ten minutes left.
What amazed me so much was how much soul there was underneath the surface, and how you expect a fair amount of soul in the beginning because this is a drama but it ends up so much bigger. This is a movie that always has something on the go to sneakily captivate us, from the sneaky friendship with an outsider goth kid (Finn Wolfhard in a perfect Russian accent, but is actually apparently Ukrainian), to a twist of fate that makes the last forty minutes a pure marvel, not because everyone’s running and being chased, that’s not what happens. Because we care about the outcome and we have no idea (if you’ve read the novel, maybe not so much) if Theo will even stay alive or if he’ll get what we really hope he gets.
The Goldfinch arguably takes time to digest, and I’m in no hurry to watch the whole thing over again. But if you’re ready for a movie that tells a full complete story, you just might fall under its spell of hope and regret. It asks you what you would do in Theo’s grieving situation, of the desperation to cling to those who you loved who have departed. Be ready for a biggie and that biggie will be a sensational watch.
If you like this, I’d try Lion, starring Dev Patel