The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company, R)

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There’s nothing really wrong with The King’s Speech, aside from the fact that it feels like you saw it last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

Every year there are films like The King’s Speech, and every year I have trouble reviewing them. They are gorgeously mounted period pieces with name actors emoting all over the place, already much-loved by the time I see them and basically technically flawless. They are also cold Oscar-grabs that feel very bought, and this calculated, awards-bait quality often keeps me from being able to get into them as much as the filmmakers want me to. It’s like movie studios (and Harvey Weinstein in particular) are trying to make a genre out of Oscar-worthy pictures, and I don’t like it.
This is to say, there’s nothing really wrong with The King’s Speech, aside from the fact that it feels like you saw it last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not blaming this film for essentially getting everything right; I blame it for being produced to “get everything right,” at the expense of originality, excitement, intelligence and a host of other qualities a film of true merit would possess.
Here we have the true story (check) of King George VI (historical drama, check), who has a nasty stutter (disability, check) that he overcomes with the help of his kooky new friend (check) Lionel Logue. King George, here referred to most of the time by the affectionate diminutive ‘Bertie,’ is played by Colin Firth, hot off a nomination for the much more deserving A Single Man last year (strong recent track record, check), and Lionel is played by the ever-reliable and kooky Geoffrey Rush (check). The only curveball is that it was directed by Tom Hooper, perhaps best known for the TV miniseries John Adams, or perhaps for last year’s theatrical release The Damned United, but who has never before been considered a serious Oscar contender.
Yes, the sets and costumes are gorgeous, the direction is strong and Firth and Rush are at the top of their game—not that they often aren’t. Even nonbelievers like me are thrown a bone in a funny scene where Lionel has Bertie say what essentially amounts to George Carlin’s seven words you can never say on television, which, like the car rental scene in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, is the sole reason that this film got an R rating.
In other words, pretty much everyone who sees The King’s Speech is going to enjoy it, aside from those of us who get tired of studios reheating this tired old formula year after year in an effort to fill up their mantel. This year I’m voting for The Social Network, which at this point is The King’s Speech’s biggest competition for those coveted awards; it has a hell of a lot more on its mind and is unpredictable in a way that The King’s Speech could never hope to be, and was never intended to be, which is exactly the problem. | Pete Timmermann

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