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After months of early rave reviews and hype over Nicole Kidman's chameleonic performance as Virginia Woolf, The Hours finally begins its wide release this week. Director Steven Daldry (Billy Elliott) is already earning nominations and awards from various film organizations for his adaptation of Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which weaves the lives of three women together into a story about melancholy, despair, insanity, suicide, and the meaning of life.
Virginia Woolf's depression and disillusionment influenced the tone of her novel Mrs. Dalloway, published in the 1920s. The Hours follows the stories of two other women who relate powerfully to Mrs. Dalloway's angst and loneliness. One is a troubled housewife (Julianne Moore) in 1949. In a present-day plot, the other (Meryl Streep) cares for her friend, a famous author (Ed Harris) dying of AIDS.
J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) says, "One of the things I like most about The Hours (and there is much to admire) is how it deals with the issue of mental illness. So many films take the side of the person suffering or the side of family and friends who have to deal with the sufferer. The Hours portrays both. We see the agony of a person who can't seem to find the will to live, but we also see what that does to friends, spouses, and children. … There is a compelling plot, beautiful imagery, and some of the best acting you'll see all year."
Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "Although I was intrigued by several of the thought-provoking issues raised in this movie—and there's no question that it was beautifully done—I was disappointed that it was so sad, depressing, and disturbing." She describes the film as deliberately deceitful, "luring" audiences with big name stars and then betraying them by telling a story about homosexuals. "People tend to spend their money on movies that have big name talent carrying them, because there's a certain trust factor that goes with a star and the movies they choose. These days, that trust factor seems to be diminishing." (Should it really be taboo for films to tell stories about homosexuals?)
Movieguide's critic says, "The Hours will undoubtedly win numerous awards for writing, direction and acting, but most viewers probably will be bored to tears or sleep. This pretentious movie has a very strong secular humanist worldview. A relationship with God isn't even considered. The only solutions it offers to the triviality and meaninglessness of the characters' lives are personal selfishness at the expense of others, suicide, or living for moments of affection."
Gerri Pare (Catholic News Service) calls it "a thoughtful and disturbing contemplation about people in crisis, but the film's indulgent attitude toward the choices they make poses a moral problem for viewers."
Mainstream critics are divided, some enjoying the poetry of the film's style while others are calling it pretentious and bemoaning the "hours" lost. (Time magazine's critic even called it "the Worst Film of the Year.") David Denby (New Yorker) says, "The movie has to overcome an over-all morbidity and Philip Glass's music, as well as its fractured time sequence, and, amazingly, it does— it sails through. [It] is a lovely, serious work that should find a larger audience than this kind of literary movie usually does. The twin themes of The Hours are the variety of human bonds, especially the bond of love, and the gift that the dying make to the living. The miracle is that such somber notions fit together as surely and lightly as the dancers in a Balanchine ballet."
from Film Forum, 01/30/03
Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) criticizes The Hours, calling it "a brilliantly austere, emotionally nuanced masterpiece riddled with suicidal musings and homosexual propaganda. It digs for answers to some of life's most perplexing dilemmas, and then turns the dream into something of a nightmare when it comes up empty."