Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quick Movie Review - HUGO

Thumbs Up. But not way up.

HUGO is a slow moving film that is more interesting than compelling.  Mainly it is a beautiful movie.  The 3-D is the best I've ever seen.  The sets are beautiful.  And of course Paris is beautiful.  Hugo is worth the price of admission just to enjoy its visual pleasures.
Ironically, or not, Hugo maintains this beauty without beautiful actors.  OK, Jude Law and Emily Mortimer are in it. But the rest of the characters look like real people, though admittedly a bit more polished up.  But we are not looking at Baywatch girls and soap opera boys.  This is a plus.
Richard Griffiths courting Frances de la Tour
An old dog using the new dog trick.
Hugo the protagonist is a boy with 99 problems.  He's an orphan living in a train station.  He steals his food & drink and is known among the station vendors as a thief.  And Borat is a security guard who wants to catch him and send him to the orphanage.
Little Hugo's problems are only one of several story lines going at once, which is fine in and of itself.  But the film never seems to decide what is important and what story it wants to tell us.
Hugo is a young boy.  My own boys (real ones) are 8 and 12 and we had a discussion about how old Hugo is.  We think he is 10 to 12.  I think 12.  As a Dad the story of Hugo growing up is one of the most interesting stories within this film.  This is highlighted by his friendship with a girl, who appears to just a bit older than he.  Their friendship starts with the ease of small children finding a new playmate.  But as it goes along we see hints of the growing up that is just around the corner.  The brief holding of hands and a kiss on the cheek.  One moment they seem like babies and the next they are growing up.  Just like real kids.  It is sweet.
Hugo is really all about movies.
These kids are like the "smelly" fresh flowers that Emily Mortimer brings into the station every day that brighten up a downtrodden post war and depression era France.
My sons got a big kick out of noticing that all of the French characters in Hugo have British accents.
The consensus main plot line is that Hugo has an automaton that he and his father were fixing.  The Dad, Jude Law, dies in a fire.  So the real story is that Hugo is a lost orphan and what will happen to him?  The automaton is a key (as is it's key), which we know going into the theatre from the previews and ads.  But this is cheating the movie experience.  The automaton is a great multi-purpose metaphor, but is not central to the story.  Someone got infatuated with it and let it become too important.  
What is important and more interesting is the story of why Ghandi is a grumpy toy store keeper at the Gare Montparnasse.  But we don't realize this until well into the second half of the film.  His story is tied into the story of the losses suffered by France and Europe in World War 1 and this could help explain his unexamined need to help Hugo.  Perhaps leaving it unexplained is to leave us with fodder for conversation.  Or maybe we just need to read the book.
Bottom line, Hugo is not an ordinary film, so enjoying its riches requires setting expectations before going in.  This is a movie about movies and history and loss and healing.  It really turns out to be quite uplifting. There are many gems to be discovered in the film if you are inclined to look for such trivia.  So if you can set aside expectations of an adventure film wrongly promoted by the film's marketeers, and set yourself for a relaxing ride through the past, I think you will enjoy your 2 hours and 6 minutes in Paris.