YES VIRGINIA, A MILLION ELVIS FANS CAN BE WRONG ^ I’d been concerned for a while about the Oscar chances of the deplorable A Beautiful Mind, particularly after reading what turned out to be a fairly on-the-money article on Salon.com. Why do I hate this film so much? A number of them are laid out in my original review, but that just lays out my immediate complaints. The performances have continued to grate on me. Poor Jennifer Connelly isn’t really given enough to do, but last year’s Best Actor winner Crowe is the real criminal. His portrayal of mathematician/schizophrenic John Nash is all none-too-thought-out surface gestures. His performance is every bit as bad as Sean Penn’s in I Am Sam for the same reasons. Even Crowe’s accent is awful. Look, I’m from West Virginia, born and raised. I know that accent (which can, like any accent, vary by region). What’s a good one sound like? Jodi Foster’s cadence, in “Silence of the Lambs”, is flawless. Not once, though, could I ever identify Crowe’s character as coming from anywhere in West Virginia. Instead, all I could make from what was coming out of his lips was something like Foghorn Leghorn doing an Abraham Lincoln imitation. Cletus the slackjawed hillbilly on “The Simpsons” is more subtle and accurate than that gibberish that was flowing out of Mr. Moody “Genius” in this film.
Crowe, however, isn’t my real complaint. Ron Howard would be an easy target, but if you pick on Opie Cunningham, people act like you just kicked a puppy. Still, I fail to understand how anyone can explain to me with a straight face that his “artistic vision” and directing job was superior to that of either Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) or David Lynch (Mulholland Drive).
Howard, though, my real problem isn’t Howard, either. No, my issue is with the man who has written four, count ‘em, four Joel f@#$in’ Schumacher epics, A Beautiful Mind screenwriter Akiva Goldsman.
Unlike smear campaigns in past years with such films as “Hurricane”, accusations of historical omissions and inaccuracies failed to dim the hopes of what I’ve felt is one of the most grossly negligent biopics I’ve ever seen. Many have commented on the film’s omission of many of Nash’s achievements in mathematics, his anti-Semitic remarks, his bisexuality, his divorce, his first marriage, his other children, blah-blah-blah, you get the idea. Goldsman has spoken publicly about the decisions he made with the script, as in a recent L.A. Times story.
If you don’t feel like muddling through it, then I’ll give you the gist of his defense. Basically, Goldsman, the son of two psychologists (you know, like Brenda on “Six Feet Under”), states the producers “were thinking biopic and genius. I was thinking no biopic and madness.” Okay, but is the movie true to Nash’s experience? The writer negates that possibility when he admits he had to “build this construct of delusions. I made them up. I had to. John Nash doesn’t remember his delusions.” The author of the article indicates that Goldman elaborates that “the delusional characters in his film are his own attempt to illustrate to an audience how people with schizophrenia experience delusions.”
Ooookay. So what does this leave us? Goldman has publicly stated that the delusional segments, the only parts he really cared about, are total fiction. The rest of the script bears only occasional resemblance to Nash’s life. Even Nash has publicly stated the movie has little in common with his own reality. So, we’ve got a couple of problems here that are very closely related. First, is this even a decent portrayal of the experience of having schizophrenia? Nope. A Beautiful Mind comes off and fourth-rate Cronenberg trying to pass itself off as fifth-rate Hitchcock. The writer had to dumb down the extremity of the delusions of most schizophrenics into something that he and the director might convince the audience was actually happening to our main character. The real Nash, at certain points, reportedly thought aliens were talking to him. At the very least, someone of his intellect would at least have more than three, count ‘em, three imaginary friends. Of course, none of that matters as Goldsman was more interested in fooling the audience than writing a biopic.
What’s the other problem? Well, if Goldsman wanted to write a movie about madness so much, he should have done just that. However, he was hired to write a biopic about the very real John Nash. Of course, he was also hired to write “Batman and Robin” and “Lost in Space”, but there’s no time to discuss those steaming balls of shit right now. With a biopic, there is, at the very, very, very, very least, an expectation that the filmmakers will attempt to portray some truth about the life of the subject. Here, I can’t even tell if Goldsman even read the original book by Sylvia Nasar, upon which his screenplay is supposedly based. As much as he took from it he could have got from the summary on Amazon.com. So, half the movie is fiction and the rest is basically the Cliff Notes edition of the life of John Nash. Unfortunately, the average audience can’t be expected to make this distinction.
Is the film then at least “true” to the madness suffered by the man? No, not for a couple of reasons. First, the delusions really need to be presented with some kind of context. A better display of the cold war paranoia in the public consciousness of the 1950’s would have better contextualized that which set off with Nash’s mind itself. Presented here, Nash’s fragile mental state is well past broken from the moment we first meet him. The other misfire should be apparent just from the friggin’ title. A Beautiful Mind refers to the seemingly intertwined state of Nash’s genius and madness. While Goldsman takes the time to explain the man’s bold theorem formulated in grad school (for which he eventually won the Nobel Prize), none of his later work in the field is ever discussed. The whole point of any discussion of Nash’s life should explore both sides. If his colleagues weren’t so in awe of what he might be capable of, why would they let him wonder around the Yale campus, un-medicated, for decades? But, I suppose Mr. Best Adapted Screenplay winner wasn’t interested in any of that for his “bold” exploration of “madness”. Here’s hoping that some day someone makes a movie about his life, but just the time he spent writing mediocre John Grisham adaptations and crappier genre flicks and not his childhood spent among other children with severe mental problems. If he won’t take the time to properly explain why anyone should give a shit about someone as amazing and complicated as John Nash, why should anyone do the same for him?
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Posted on March 24, 2002 in Features by Ron Wells
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