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The Films of Stephen Frears


Bloody Kids

The Hit

My Beautiful Laundrette

Prick Up Your Ears

Mr Jolly Lives Next Door

Sammy and Rosie Get Laid

Dangerous Liasons

The Grifters


The Snapper

Mary Reilly

The Van

The Hi-Lo Country

High Fidelity


Dirty Pretty Things

Mrs. Henderson Presents

Click here for review.

The Queen (July 31/07)

Given the film's austere subject matter, one could certainly be forgiven for expecting The Queen to possess a slow-moving, stuffy sort of vibe. But buoyed by Helen Mirren's Oscar-winning performance and Peter Morgan's truthful, surprisingly funny screenplay, the film ultimately comes off as a compelling drama that effectively humanizes the title character - ensuring that she is, at times, a figure that's downright relatable. The movie details the turmoil within the monarchy in the weeks following Princess Diana's death, as Queen Elizabeth II (Mirren) - with the help of newly-elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) - struggles with the most appropriate way to respond to her passing. Director Stephen Frears' does a nice job of infusing The Queen with a straight-forward sensibility that suits the material quite well, though one can't help but lament the film's third-act transformation into a humorless, downright dry piece of work (ie the movie's never quite as engaging as it is in its opening half hour, yet the whole thing is certainly never boring). Mirren's justifiably lauded performance undoubtedly plays a key role in The Queen's success, and generally ensures that even those viewers with little patience for the Royal Family's exploits will find themselves sporadically riveted.

out of


Tamara Drewe (November 2/11)

Based on a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, Tamara Drewe follows Gemma Arterton's title character as she returns to her hometown to sell her late mother's estate - with the film, for the most part, subsequently detailing the ongoing exploits of the small community's various residents (including Luke Evans' Andy, Tamsin Greig's Beth, and Roger Allam's Nicholas). Filmmaker Stephen Frears, working from a screenplay by Moira Buffini, has infused the early part of Tamara Drewe with a jaunty, lighthearted vibe that proves impossible to resist, with the affable atmosphere, which is reflected most keenly in the efforts of a uniformly charismatic cast, effectively (and initially) compensating for the decidedly lackadaisical nature of the movie's execution. It's only as the narrative adopts an increasingly episodic feel that one's interest begins to wane, as it does become more and more difficult to work up any real enthusiasm for several of the film's periphery subplots - with, in particular, the dull exploits of teenagers Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie) emblematic of everything that's wrong with Tamara Drewe's latter half. There is, as such, little doubt that the film slowly but surely wears out its welcome, which is a shame, really, given the promising nature of the movie's opening half hour.

out of

Lay the Favorite (March 29/18)

The degree to which Lay the Favorite fizzles out is ultimately nothing short of devastating, as the picture, directed by Stephen Frears, opens with a tremendous amount of promise and features terrific work from stars Rebecca Hall and Bruce Willis - with, in fact, the latter delivering his most relaxed and charismatic performance in years. The movie casts Hall as Beth, a bubbly private dancer who moves to Las Vegas in the hopes of becoming a cocktail waitress - with the character instead accepting a hectic job alongside a neurotic sports gambler (Willis' Dink). Filmmaker Frears, working from D.V. DeVincentis' screenplay, kicks off Lay the Favorite with a tremendously entertaining opening stretch centered around Hall's protagonist and her initial arrival in Vegas, with the complicated yet intriguing nature of Dink's work certainly perpetuating the movie's somewhat spellbinding atmosphere. It's a shame, then, that the film grows progressively less and less compelling as it unfolds, with the narrative's shift to Beth's exploits in New York City triggering a meandering, unfocused second half that rarely works. There's just never a point at which one is able to work up much interest in Beth's personal exploits, including an on-again-off-again relationship with Joshua Jackson's Jeremy, and it goes without saying that Frears' efforts at closing the proceedings with a suspenseful, uplifting finale fall completely flat - which cements Lay the Favorite's place as a serious disappointment that could (and should) have been so much better.

out of

Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight

Philomena (December 14/13)

Inspired by true events, Philomena follows struggling journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) as he reluctantly agrees to tell the human-interest story of the title figure - as Philomena (Judi Dench) sets out to find the son she was forced to give up more than 50 years ago. It's an inherently intriguing setup that's employed to consistently watchable effect by director Stephen Frears, although, by that same token, there's little doubt that the movie, which runs a brisk 98 minutes, does take some time to wholeheartedly get going - with the initial inclusion of rather needless flashbacks wreaking havoc on the narrative's tenuous momentum. Philomena benefits substantially, however, from the expectedly superb efforts of its two stars, as Dench and Coogan step into their respective roles with impressive ease and, eventually, come to share a chemistry that proves impossible to resist. And although the film suffers from a few recurring problems - the rather predictable nature of Martin's character arc, for example - Philomena becomes more and more involving as it progresses due to its increased emphasis on Martin and Philomena's investigation into her son's upbringing and life. There are, as such, a number of engrossing sequences spread through the film's second half, and while it's not quite able to become the tearjerker Frears clearly wants it to be, Philomena ultimately establishes itself as a solid little drama that is, more often than not, more effective as an actor's showcase than anything else.

out of

The Program

Florence Foster Jenkins (August 12/16)

Based on a true story, Florence Foster Jenkins follows Meryl Streep's title character, a wealthy heiress whose efforts at becoming a legitimate singer are hindered by her total lack of talent - with the movie also detailing Florence's relationships with her husband (Hugh Grant's St. Clair Bayfield) and her long-suffering pianist (Simon Helberg's Cosmé McMoon). It's a limited premise that's employed to progressively interminable effect by director Stephen Frears, as the filmmaker, along with scripter Nicholas Martin, proves unable to transform his real-life subject's life into a story worth telling - with the relative promise of the movie's opening half hour giving way to a midsection that couldn't possibly be more stagnant and repetitive. This is despite a typically immersive performance by Streep, with the actress delivering a compelling turn that's matched by a talented supporting cast (Helberg's charming and often hilarious work stands as a continuous and increasingly rare highlight within the proceedings). But in spite of strong acting and solid visuals, Florence Foster Jenkins grows more and more tedious as time progresses - with the screenplay's stubborn emphasis on Florence's nails-on-a-chalkboard singing style exacerbating the movie's unwatchable vibe. (It doesn't help, either, that the film takes an aggressively surface-level approach to its subject.) The disastrously dull atmosphere ensures that the feel-good bent of the movie's third act falls completely flat, naturally, and it's ultimately impossible to label Florence Foster Jenkins as a anything less than a total misfire that wastes the talents of everyone involved.

out of

© David Nusair