I have to admit it, I kind of liked Misery. A colleague of mine categorized it as “efficient hooey” and my response was “What’s so bad about that?”
There’s a place in this world for efficient hooey.
You all know the outline of the story (or should, where’s your pop culture cred?). Based on Stephen King’s novel, set in the early ‘80s, before cellphones-as-a-commonality and universal internet, it’s about what happens after bestselling romantic-potboiler novelist Paul Sheldon (Bruce Willis) wakes up—having been rescued from a car accident in a remote, snowbound location—in a bed in the guest room of the home of nurse Annie Wilkes (Laurie Metcalf), who has taken him in to convalesce. She has set and splinted his two broken legs, put his broken arm in a cast. He’s grateful, she’s honored: she declares herself his “Number One Fan.” But it doesn’t take much time for Annie to vbe revealed as a dangerous psychotic, and for Paul to find himself a prisoner in her home, writing for her pleasure…and for his life.
With a script by William Goldman, who also screenplay’d the hit film, and direction by Will Frears, Misery is like a slowly accelerating fun house ride; in the best sense, a B-movie writ theatrical, with a turntable set (that lets us track a character’s passage through the first floor of the house) and actual, movie-type underscoring (Michael Friedman) to heighten suspense.
When I saw Misery, close on its opening, there was some talk and some reviews asserting that Bruce Willis was giving a fairly wan performance as Paul; I didn’t really find that at all. I thought he was okay, and connecting well enough to both role and audience; also, though, that that he was a guy who’d been in front of the camera too long, had lost a good deal of his stage mojo, and didn’t seem to have a director who could get him to tap renew a sense of theatrical size without sacrificing subtlety. But that I thought, and still think, made the real issue one of technique; his getting used to using his muscles again (in fact, rather like the character). I wouldn’t be surprised if, by now, he were a lot more vibrant.
Of course, vibrancy has never been Laurie Metcalf’s problem. Her Annie is terrifying and wonderful and sad and spectacularly singular, living up to the script description that she “is like no one else on this or any planet.”
And a nod for Leon Addison Brown as Buster, the local sheriff, agreeably fulfilling the trope of the avuncular lawman who’s smarter than he seems, showing up at inconvenient moments.
Efficient hooey? So be it. I’m on board.
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