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The Goldfinch: brilliant novel reduced to sad snoozefest

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Book lovers, gather round, I have a very important announcement – this film is not for us.

Yes, it is my tragic duty to inform you that if you loved any or all of Donna Tart’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, it’s best to sit out this film adaptation lest you find yourself overcome with rage.

What happens onscreen is an affront to the masterful novel – taking only its most basic plot and excising every moment of emotion.

In the film, we start at the end (because why just tell a chronological story when you can chop it up and tell a story in chunks that make no sense because they’re given absolutely no context in the larger narrative?).

Theo (played as an adult by Ansel Elgort) is in Amsterdam, preparing to take his life. In a flash, he’s 13 (played by Oakes Fegly) and in the museum walking with his mother, whose face we never see.

An explosion, dust, and in the blink of an eye he’s being delivered to the doorstep of the Barbour family, where a detective explains that his mother is dead, they found him at home waiting for her, and that he’s in need of temporary assistance.

Gone are the 24 hours he spends alone in the apartment, in shock, wondering where his mother has gone not realizing she’s dead – gone is the heartbreak and anguish you feel for this scared and traumatized little boy.

The rest of the film is equally disappointing – the basic plot points are there (I won’t spoil them if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the book) but are dished out in a way that makes them totally disconnected from one another.

The plot is filled with twists and turns as it always was, but there’s no passion in the story. Ansel Elgort is all flash, no soul, in his performance of Theo; Nicole Kidman is so stone-faced as Mrs. Barbour that you initially wonder if her character is dealing with mental health issues. Only Jeffrey Wright as the wise and compassionate Hobie shows any signs of life.

Not every book is meant to be a movie. Condensing The Goldfinch’s almost 800 pages into a 140-page script was a nearly impossible task – something had to go.

Unfortunately, the screenwriting left the heart of the book on the cutting-room floor. A book that made readers ponder tragedy and fate and loss has been reduced to a 2.5-hour snoozefest.

Do yourself a favour and skip this one in theatres and instead enjoy the story, care of your local bookstore.

Vicky Sparks is a Bright’s Grove native and movie critic for Global TV’s The Morning Show, which airs nationally on Fridays. Her Journal Reviews cover movies playing at Galaxy Cinemas Sarnia


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