April 19, 2006

Out of Africa (1985)
Grade: 65/100

Director: Sydney Pollack
Stars: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer

What it's about. Meryl Streep is a young Danish woman, circa 1912. She marries an unfaithful adventurer who takes her to Africa. There, she grows coffee, befriends the natives, and has an affair with big game hunter Robert Redford.

How others will see it. This film won a pile of Oscars, including Best Picture. Its selling point is the cinematography of Africa. Adult women are likely to identify with Meryl Streep, who always does the right thing with the natives, and even treats her estranged husband with more respect than he deserves.

Many people, both men and women, will find the movie tedious. It moves slowly, and at times sadly. It's all well done, of course, with great class and a quality cast and script. If you lack patience, you will sooner or later reach for the remote to find the fast forward or stop buttons.

How I felt about it. Of course, Out of Africa is an interesting movie, even if it is exciting only on the rare occasions when lions are deciding whether to make lunch out of Meryl Streep.

The first question is, is Meryl Streep's character successful? As a businesswoman, she fails. As a wife, she fails, though in Hollywood fashion, it is the man to blame. Unless it's the other woman. In real life, Streep's character, Karen Blixen, was successful solely as a writer. But writing is uncinematic, unlike wastrel adventures in Africa.

Also of interest is Berkeley's common law marriage to a Somali servant girl. No one today would be even surprised by such a thing, which is simply a matter of opportunity and convenience. Here, Streep and Redford are aghast. As if their lives are less scandalous.

Predictably, but historically suspect, is Streep's devotion to her African tribe. She lets them live on her land. She has a school built to teach them English. She begs for a homeland for them when her time in Africa is up. Saint Meryl in action. She even dotes on a crippled boy.

Perhaps I am too cynical. Blixen (perhaps her pen name was Dinesen to avoid comparisons with Santa's reindeer) did play Mother Teresa in Africa. Perhaps she did work the farm as a field hand, tell unrehearsed, magnificent stories on the spur of a moment, and engage Robert Redford in philosphical debates about the nature of commitment within a relationship. Which was apparently more memorable than the sex.

Or, perhaps, it wasn't quite like that at all. I remember watching pieces of two different films about the Long Island Lolita, and mentally remarking about how differently they portrayed the same people. In the end, it isn't the accuracy that matters. It's the credibility, and the interest level. Out of Africa is interesting, but it isn't that credible.

easy statistics
Drugstore.com Coupons