Overrated II

film 4 of 4

The Princess Bride

Film Review by Dean Duncan Apr 10, 2015

Hey! This is a really overrated movie. I realize that lots of people love it more than life itself, and often for reasons that lie outside of the film itself. Your buddies, your family, your future spouse—1987! Films can be great vehicles for taking us to more important places, and without being particularly good themselves they often lead to the most tremendous sociality. That’s so great! Also, I find The Princess Bride to be a pretty poor movie.

Sorry about that, everyone. But look at all these too-clearly telegraphed jokes, the overstated performances and reactions and emotions. Listen to the painfully overstated to the point of giving you a concussion books-are-better-than-media sermon. Listen to that maddening score! Again, I sense that this is ground zero for the devoted afficionados, but for me the Fire Swamp episode is typical of the whole movie. I find no lightness, no surprise, no fun, really. Wm. Goldman’s beloved source novel had something significant to say about folk tales and such—sending up traditions so as to more profoundly affirm them. That doesn’t happen here. In fact, it strikes me this time as more or less leaden Saturday Night Live-like stuff, plus extra sentimentality and a big budget.

Does it come down to direction? The requisite actors are on hand, and they actually do help out, in part. And yet, nearly every fine contribution catches in my throat a little bit. Not Peter Falk, who is a treasure. Not Carol Kane, who as I like to say whenever the opportunity presents itself, is a genius. I’ve caught myself feeling the same about Billy Crystal a time or two. But he and Wallace Shawn, hoots that they are, do rather protest too much, don’t they? André the Giant is lovely, but they do push and pander and wallow in the fact.  There’s something sweet about the Patinkin character’s situation, and his tenor voice, and even, though you resist it, his revenge quest. Let’s be fair, and say that the climactic sword fight is kind of effectively chivalrous. All of this registers, but none of that prevails.

Is it the leads, in the end?  Wright and Elwes are pretty (there are two careers that went in different directions!), but they’re ultimately wan, even empty. Maybe the problem is in the theme, the true-love-conquers idea that is pushed to the point of hysteria. I don’t buy it. I don’t buy that they buy it. I sense there’s no conviction about the thing that they’re selling, and no reason that there would be. The aim is enchantment, but in the end it’s all pretty unmagical.