Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Film Appreciation - Your Number One Fan

Jay Burleson hopes you have a white Christmas as he fondly remembers Rob Reiner's Misery.

Misery (1990)
Directed by Rob Reiner
Starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, and Frances Sternhagen

Like a slew of my other Appreciation films, Misery is a childhood favorite and one that makes me think of watching movies with my mom, even though I have no real recollection of watching it with her. Like Carrie, this is also a film based on a story by the great Stephen King.

Misery stars James Caan as popular writer Paul Sheldon. The film picks up with him as he puts the finishing touches on his next novel and leaves the writing cabin he has been renting. It's snowing and there is a one car accident, but luckily for Paul, he's rescued by a local woman named Annie Wilkes. Kathy Bates plays Wilkes to perfection, and out of all the well known films that she has been in, she'll always be Annie Wilkes to me.

Annie puts Paul up in her spare room and slowly nurses him back to health. She would've taken him to the hospital, but the storm was too bad and she can't get anyone on the phone because the lines are down. Things could have been really bad for Paul, but fortunately he's with Annie, a former nurse and the self-proclaimed "biggest fan" of Sheldon's writing. He's alive and in good hands. He feels like Wilkes saving him was a miracle.

Then the snow starts to melt. Paul's legs are so badly damaged that he can barely move. Paul allows Annie to read the manuscript for his new book, and things take a turn for the worse. First, she has a freak out over the amount of swearing Paul has written in the first forty pages of the book. Paul tries to explain that these are slum kids, and that everyone talks like that. Annie disagrees and goes on a tirade, and it's here that Kathy Bates and her truly chilling performance takes off. It begins with an outburst of, "THEY DO NOT! At the feedstore do I say, "Oh, now Wally, give me a bag of that F-in' pig feed, and a pound of that bitchly cow corn"? At the bank do I say, "Oh, Mrs. Malenger, here is one big bastard of a check, now give me some of your Christing money!" THERE, LOOK THERE, NOW SEE WHAT YOU MADE ME DO!" Even watching it now gives me the chills. How she is able to flip the switch from psycho to innocent do-gooder is absolutely stunning.

James Caan is fine in the role of Paul Sheldon. He delivers a very solid performance and displays the right amount of helplessness as well as just enough of the character's normal personality. It's interesting because we never really get to see Paul Sheldon at full strength. Even in some scenes of Paul at his publishers, he's still in business mode. One thing I will say about Paul is that he's a bit stupid. He is a real smart ass, at the disregard of Annie and her craziness. He really should've been more careful about his one-liners, as it's obvious to see he's dealing with someone who's more than a little unstable. I wonder what Paul Sheldon is like when he's hanging out with his buddies and drinking a cold one. Probably a tad bit boring, but definitely a smartass.

A "perfect, perfect thing" is how Annie Wilkes describes the first part of the last book in Sheldon's "Misery" series, and it's a great way to describe her acting in the film. The creepiest part of her performance is how fake her happy and well-to-do attitude comes across. There is something off about it, not in a bad acting way, but more in the true nature of the character. It's chilling. Her freak out moments are great and highly intense. You could say they are over the top, but I'll go with scary as hell instead.

Major props to Richard Farnsworth as the local sheriff as well. He does such a great job in this movie, and is an extremely likeable character.

Things really went wrong for Paul when he decided it'd be a good idea to kill off his most popular character, the namesake of his "Misery" series. Annie picks the novel up at the book store, much to the delight of Paul because he thinks this means the roads are open and that he can get to a hospital. Annie lies her way out of it and continues keeping Paul right where she has him. Once she finishes the newest Misery book and finds out that Misery Chastain dies at the end, she decides to tell Paul the truth-- no one is coming for him and no one knows that he is there. The suspense only grows from this point as Paul begins to plot his way out of Annie's hellhole. Torture awaits him, both mentally (he is forced to burn the only copy of his new book), and physically.

I think Misery is wonderfully written and directed, and contains a nice amount of suspense and some really great performances.  This one is definitely worth repeat viewings. The film is mainly between two characters, Paul and Annie, but does a great job with the timely intercutting to the secondary roles. The winter setting only adds to the misery and is a great backdrop, as its almost always visible out Paul's window. I find this film to be especially enjoyable during the winter months, when the view outside is as bleak as the scenery on screen. This year I chose it as my Christmas film because I have a wicked sense of humor. If you are in the mood for a frightening film this holiday season, then look no further. There are very few films that can actually make me feel uncomfortable or afraid, and Misery is one of them.

1 comment:

  1. To this day, I'm not sure I've managed to actually watch every second of the hobbling scene.