Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Ammonite - Review

When reviewing some films, it’s very easy to label it as “fine” or “okay” and leave it at that. But unfortunately, reviews tend to be a bit longer than a handful of words. Ammonite is a period romance featuring two of the best actresses working today that’s so clearly desperate for awards attention that its almost painful. It is a film that feels like a lesser version of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a dull, drab film that is lacking in any chemistry whatsoever.

Set in 1840s England, on the Southern coast of Lyme, the film follows the real-life paleontologist Mary Anning, played by Kate Winslet, and the recuperating Charlotte Murchison, played by Saoirse Ronan. Both characters are rather subdued, quietly moving about their lives on the beaches of Lyme, searching for fossils to sell to rich tourists. And then they’re romantic relationship sparks, and they’re still quiet, subdued, and generally lacking any chemistry between them. 

Don’t get it twisted, Winslet and Ronan deliver solid performances with what they’re given. They are both phenomenal actresses and it really shouldn’t be shocking that they’re the best part. Winslet has the more constrained role, both by the times of which her character is placed, and by the limits of the writing. And Ronan is perhaps at her most vulnerable here, even with a woefully underwritten character of her own. However, the two together don’t really work in the film. The connection that they supposedly share just never pops, and what’s left is a questionable, if not boring, romance. 

Director and writer Francis Lee is more than a capable director, he proved as much with God’s Own Country in 2017. But with Ammonite, he misses the mark. Sure, the film is well made from a technical standpoint, but the story stagnates in the worst way. It’s as though he found the story of Mary Anning, didn’t think it was interesting enough, threw in a fabricated romance, and actually made her less interesting in doing so. 

In crafting this fictionalized version of Mary Anning, Lee digs himself a hole that he has to make his way out of before the film can even rise to its potential. Instead, the result is predictable. Instead of complex women turned unlikely lovers, we are given poorly written characters that share exactly zero chemistry throughout the two hour runtime. It’s a terrible shame that none of these pieces of the puzzle could connect to make Ammonite something special, rather than the average film that it is.

Tedious to sit through and with nothing interesting to say, Ammonite is the newest film to enter that long list of awards hopefuls that never had a chance. Winslet and Ronan are fine for what they’re given, but even they can’t elevate this material. The film struggles to make you care even a little about whether these two end up together or not, and that’s a huge issue with a film built on this premise. It is not a film that’s going to get a lot of negative remarks beyond its mundaneness, but it also likely won’t be remembered for very long either.

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