When Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) uncovers her creative urge to write thought-tormented poetry, she’s in a rickety boat tossing to and fro among the waves. Later, she considers suicide after enduring a constricted life as the wife of philandering poet laureate Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig), bathed in the holy yellow glow that emanates from a hallway lamp. Her victimization takes on a note of transcendence, underlined vociferously by composer Gabriel Yared’s score (which functions as an emotional telegraph). Spelled out in a series of such bald-faced grandiloquent gestures, Sylvia is a Lifetime bio-pic set in a BBC melodrama’s charcoal gray gloom and squalor. The effect is a childish oversimplification of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes as poets, with their tumultuous marriage painted in strokes that broadly spell out their inner complexities. (“Sometimes I feel too hollow,” Plath says in a moment of crystalline self-pity. “As if I never thought anything…made anything…felt anything.”) It might have been salvaged by first-rate performances, but Paltrow and Craig are morbidly corrupt versions of Barbie and Ken. The two leads lack the depth to adequately convince us that they are playing groundbreaking poets, though Blythe Danner is a welcomed presence as Sylvia’s velvety smooth domineering mother and Michael Gambon makes a mountain out of his molehill-sized part as Plath’s sensitive neighbor. In contrast, Paltrow tosses in every possible flinch, facial tic, and angrily pursed lip when tearfully writing Plath’s landmark poems. She can’t resist acting, painting Sylvia Plath as a pin-up girl for the dispossessed—a screen icon of abject misery, also known as Oscar bait.
- Christine Jeffs
- John Brownlow
- Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Blythe Danner, Jared Harris, Michael Gambon, Amira Casar, Lucy Davenport, Eliza Wade
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