.

Washington Square

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Finney, Maggie Smith

Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
October 10, 1997

Jennifer Jason Leigh can drive you nuts, alternating transcendent performances (Georgia, Last Exit to Brooklyn) with mannered, nerve-grating star turns (Mrs. Parker, Dolores Claiborne). She serves up her best and worst as Catherine Sloper, the wallflower daughter of a domineering New York doctor (Albert Finney in fine, wicked fettle) who is determined to save her from Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin), a suitor whom the doc has pegged as a fortune hunter. Director Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa) hews closer to the 1881 novel by Henry James than to The Heiress, the successful stage adaptation by Ruth and Augustus Goetz. The play became a 1949 film -- an Oscar vehicle for Olivia deHavilland, whose Catherine took revenge on male cruelty at the expense of her own happiness.

Holland and first-time screenwriter Carol Doyle apply a feminist twist that neither James nor the Goetzes imagined. Leigh's Catherine moves from clumsy dolt to new woman, a nurturer of the young who finds that a full life, including men but not necessarily marriage and children, is the best revenge.

Washington Square survives this deconstruction -- even Dr. Sloper's talk of Morris' young, sinewy body (how does he know with those period clothes?) and the early stages of Leigh's portrayal, when she overdoes the stammers and stumbles to show Catherine's virginal hysteria. Leigh grows into the role in subtle encounters with Finney and the great Maggie Smith, as Catherine's interfering, sexually repressed Aunt Penniman.

Leigh is most touching with Chaplin, a Brit with the looks and charm to stand comparisons to Montgomery Clift in the first film version. The drawing-room scene in which Morris steals his first kiss from Catherine -- she faints dead away -- is ravishingly done. Ditto the movie. For once, the heat generated by a costume drama has nothing to do with being stuffy.

prev
Movie Review Main Next

ADD A COMMENT

Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...

COMMENTS

Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.

    X

    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “You Oughta Know”

    Alanis Morissette | 1995

    This blunt, bitter breakup song -- famous for its line "Would she go down on you in a theater?" -- was long rumored to be about Alanis Morissette getting dumped by Full House actor Dave Coulier. But while she never confirmed it was about him (Coulier himself says it is, however), she insisted the song wasn't all about scorn. "By no means is this record just a sexual, angry record," she told Rolling Stone. "The song wasn't written for the sake of revenge. It was written for the sake of release. I'm actually a pretty rational, calm person."

    More Song Stories entries »
    www.expandtheroom.com