By Susan Granger
Special to WestportNow
The challenge facing Irish filmmaker John Crowley was adapting Donna Tartt’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning, 784-page novel “The Goldfinch” about a precocious, 13-year-old boy whose adolescence is shattered by one tragic event, leading him into a life of subterfuge.
Tartt’s meticulously detailed story begins with how Theodore Decker (Oakes Fegley) happens to be in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art when a bomb explodes, killing his mother. But the disappointing movie jumbles the linear dexterity.
So we don’t learn until much later why Theo was given a signet ring by a dying man and how he filches Dutch painter Carel Fabritius’ “The Goldfinch” from the rubble.
By altering the chronology, jumping backward and forward, haphazardly hitting key plot points, screenwriter Peter Straughhan confuses anyone who hasn’t read the source material, which is basically a reflective character study.
Since Theo’s single mother is dead, social workers deliver him to the Park Avenue apartment of his nerdy friend Andy Barbour (Ryan Foust). Then, just as Andy’s genteel mother (Nicole Kidman) develops an affection for the lad, his conniving, deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) appears with his vulgar girlfriend (Sarah Paulson).
He takes Theo to Las Vegas to live in an abandoned cul-de-sac in the Nevada desert. That’s where Theo meets the duplicitous hustler, Boris (Finn Wolfhard), an angst-riddled Ukrainian teen who gets him addicted to opiates. The film’s caricatured condensation of Theo/Boris’ enduring relationship is, perhaps, the most egregious.
Eventually, now-grown Theo (Ansel Elgort) winds up dealing in forgeries at a West Village antiques shop where, years earlier, he was befriended by Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), an avuncular restorer.
Wherever he goes, whatever he does, Theo obsesses about the pilfered painting, carrying this guilty secret with him.
FYI: Fabritius’ diminutive, 17th century, titular painting of a bird chained to his perch is in the Mauritius collection in The Hague, Netherlands.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Goldfinch” flutters in with a deeply flawed 4. The biggest mystery is why this tale of loss, grief and redemption didn’t become a TV miniseries.
On Sunday night, this year’s host-free Emmys will focus on awards, so here are a couple of superb series you might want to binge on beforehand.
The ferociously acerbic satire “Succession” is one of the most captivating, now beginning its second season on HBO. Will it replace “Game of Thrones”? I doubt it but with five Emmy nominations, it’s certainly worth a look.
Not unlike the Murdochs and the Redstones, the amoral Roy family are media power brokers. Cantankerous, 80-year-old Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is CEO of the Roy Empire, which includes a conservative cable news network, theme parks and rockets.
His dysfunctional family includes a quartet of scrapping siblings. Eldest son Connor (Alan Ruck) is primarily interested in his ranch in New Mexico and his former call-girl girlfriend.
Second son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) failed at a hostile takeover so he’s now a bit chastened. And youngest son Roman (Kieran Culkin) is a sniveling, obnoxious drug addict, facing possible corporate manslaughter charges after rushing the launch of a satellite rocket that exploded on takeoff.
Perhaps the most interesting character is daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook), who wed Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) in Scotland’s Eastnor Castle. Scheming Shiv seems ready and willing to play power politics to gain control of the conglomerate.
Plus there’s slacker cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), a muckraking journalist (Jessica Hecht) and the cable network’s neocon president (Jeannie Berlin). New this season are Holly Hunter and Cherry Jones as CEO and owner, respectively, of a rival liberal-leaning media dynasty — not unlike the Sulzbergers, who have controlled the New York Times since 1896.
A decade ago, Jesse Armstrong wrote “Murdoch,” a biopic depicting the mogul trying to broker a deal to give his two younger daughters with then-wife Wendi Deng future voting rights in News Corp: “It was a fictionalized future imagination of an event.” That unproduced screenplay informed his creation of “Succession.”
Noting that Rupert Murdoch’s wife, Jerry Hall, is a big fan of “Succession,” Brian Cox calls it “a morality tale, depicting human beings as basically ludicrous … They’re ludicrous in their desires, they’re ludicrous in what they get and don’t get and, in the end, they don’t even know what they want.”
For decades, theater folk have been fascinated by the scrappy, symbiotic relationship of dancer/choreographer Bob Fosse and his favorite leading lady, Gwen Verdon. With seven Emmy nominations, the eight-part FX miniseries “Fosse/Verdon” is as good as any major motion picture.
Inspired by Sam Wassen’s biography “Fosse,” writer Steven Levenson (“Dear Evan Hanson”) was intrigued by Fosse’s showmanship: “His work made musicals a place where you could tell stories that were dark and sexy and dangerous. That really changed the course of musical theater.”
“What made the story so different and not just another glimpse of self-destructive genius was this presence of Gwen and her unsung role in his work and in his life. It’s an incredible story of marriage,” Levenson goes on. “And it seemed particularly timely during the #MeToo movement.”
The plot covers the time between 1955, when sexually compulsive, substance-abusing Fosse (Sam Rockwell) choreographed “Damn Yankees” and fell in love with Verdon (Michelle Williams), and 1987, when he died in her arms after a heart attack during a “Sweet Charity” revival in Washington, D.C.
The first two episodes chronicle the filming of “Cabaret” and Fosse’s affair with a German translator. In episode three, the focus turns to Verdon, their relationship and her friendship with Joan Simon, wife of playwright Neil. Then daughter Nicole is born, and Ann Reinking (Margaret Qualley) arrives on the scene.
Throughout their volatile, razzle-dazzle relationship, Verdon is keenly aware of Fosse’s depression and suicidal tendencies. “What did I do to deserve you?” he asks. “You know, I don’t know,” she answers.
In an incandescent performance, Michelle Williams captures Verdon’s intuitive intelligence and irresistible exuberance, erotically slouching her shoulders and pivoting her pelvis, impersonating one of Broadway’s best dancers, while Sam Rockwell depicts the workaholic essence of Fosse’s weariness.
So how will “Fosse/Verdon” do at the Emmys? On Sunday night, we’ll find out.
(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)