MOVIE REVIEW: My Cousin Rachel
MY COUSIN RACHEL-- 2 STARS
You know me, folks. I’m all about the life lessons and some films scream them louder and more obvious than others. No offense to Daphne du Maurier’s seminal 1951 novel or the obvious difference of temperaments between the unnamed 19th century time period of the story and the 21st century era of today, but, this first lesson for My Cousin Rachel is loud and clear and should go without saying:
LESSON #1: DON’T FALL ROMANTICALLY IN LOVE WITH A MEMBER OF YOUR FAMILY TREE-- Add the clause “especially one that already bedded and married another cousin from the same family tree.” This should not be a “keep it in the family” meme. That’s the wrong place for fixation. As they say, there are other fish in the sea. Family trees are meant to fork not f--k.
The high melodrama of My Cousin Rachel hinges on an incestuous obsession wrapped in scheming and mystery. Up-and-coming Me Before You star Sam Clafin plays Philip, a flighty young man who stands to inherit his cousin and adoptive guardian Ambrose Ashley’s sizeable Cornwall estate on his upcoming 25th birthday. Years ago, his cousin moved to the warmth of Florence, Italy for his health and ended up meeting and happily marrying his own cousin named Rachel. Upon the news of Ambrose’s death, an unupdated last will and testament contentiously shifts Ambrose’s fortunes to Philip instead of his spouse. While we’re here…
LESSON #2: DON’T GIVE YOUR FORTUNE AWAY TO SOMEONE YOU DON’T KNOW-- First you love them and then you give them all your money?! Come on, man. Now, you’re just crazy. Certainly Philip will learn from Ambrose’s mistake, right?
After following Ambrose’s increasingly tormented and startling letters during the months leading up to his passing, Philip becomes convinced that Rachel caused his father-figure’s death solely to acquire his fortune with her foppish cohort Rainaldi (World War Z's Pierfrancesco Favino). With that transfer lost, Philip still seeks to meet this woman himself. Enter Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz as the dubious title character. Rather than despise Rachel, a woman twenty years his senior, Philip falls in love with her. Soon, her widow’s cocoon is shed, her hooks are in, and Philip’s conundrums pile on from there, much to the chagrin of his close lifelong friends, including Louise, played by Holliday Grainger of TV's The Borgias, the good woman standing right in front of his nose.
My Cousin Rachel was previously (and less faithfully) adapted for film in 1952 with Richard Burton and OIivia de Havilland in the Philip and Rachel roles. Roger Michell stiffens his upper lip from his Love, Actually and Notting Hill fare to tackle a costume drama. Oddly enough, this film can stake a serendipitous claim as the second Michell-directed film about “kissing cousins” after 2012’s Hyde Park on the Hudson. Unfortunately, more than a little uncomfortable laughter of preposterousness pokes out of this film while trying to portray itself as flowing romantic drama. That’s not going to sweep anyone.
The film looks the part on the outside. My Cousin Rachel is richly appointed with notable period-detailed art direction, costume design, and lovely high angle outdoor cinematography to stand out. Sam Clafin continues to properly distance himself from being a piece of Hunger Games meat with another heavily dramatic and traditional role for his resume. Sure, Clafin may be a variation of Hugh Grant if he had a personal trainer, but the actor shows true investment even in shallow storytelling. No matter what, the grand headliner remains Rachel Weisz, whose talent and presence heightens everything she touches. Her desirability saves the film.
Author Daphne du Maurier also wrote Rebecca and The Birds which became two Alfred Hitchcock hits. No film today can ever chase or channel the style of The Master of Suspense and I’m glad this film didn’t try. However, I wonder what Hitch’s innate sense of perversion would have done for My Cousin Rachel and its clunky foreshadowing of silly over sinister. A thicker and spicier brew of intrigue and tension, right on down to Rael Jones’ weakly portending musical score, applied to this story could have gone a long way to turn snickering giggles into dropped jaws and stroked chins. Even with the allure of Weisz, I don’t think Michell and company were prepared to go that far.
LESSON #3: DON’T EAT OR DRINK ANYTHING THAT TASTES UNPLEASANT OR UNUSUAL TO YOU-- As a father of toddlers, the rule should be a “no thank you” taste. Give it one bite or one sip. Be courteous and try something new to say that you did and honor personal requests. After that, if you like it, that’s wonderful. If you don’t like what goes down your pipe, say no and don’t keep consuming it. I feel like this lesson will return in a few weeks for The Beguiled.
LESSON #4: WHEN EVERYONE YOU’VE EVER TRUSTED AROUND YOU SAY SOMEONE OR SOMETHING IS BAD, TAKE PAUSE AND LISTEN-- Trusted friends will break things to you whether you want to hear them or not. They will be outside of the emotions clouding your thoughts. They are sticklers for your best interests and rightfully so. Trust them and their words.