Monday, May 05, 2008

Bernard and Doris: Grade C

Bernard and Doris (2007)
Susan Sarandon, Ralph Fiennes; Director Bob Balaban.

Doris Duke inherited a fortune from her father, for whom Duke University is named. This movie portrays her (Sarandon) as an eccentric, autocratic self-obsessed alcoholic and drug user who flits about the world on various adventures, but while she’s home at her mansion in New Jersey, is served by her Irish butler, Lafferty (Fiennes). The butler role is well-executed but not elevated to high art as it was by Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Day. Duke is a caricature, not a person we ever get to know or understand or care about. As time goes on, the two trust each other and become friends. When Duke is away, Lafferty drinks his way through her wine cellar, and they become co-dependent addicts, laughing it up when she brings home colorful guests from her travels. Suddenly, in one scene, she has a stroke and in the next scene she is dead, leaving her fortune to her butler. He died shortly thereafter. There is no plot, and while Sarandon is a magnetic actor no matter what, there isn’t much work for her here. The detailed sets of a fabulously wealthy woman’s house are the most fun part of the movie. I rented this without noticing it was an HBO film, and its quality confirms my bias that television movies are often a full cut below theater releases, even when strong actors are billed. I haven’t a clue why that should be.

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