Thursday, January 6, 2011

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Virginia Woolf is a film about the worst on-screen married couple of all time, which happened to be played by a pair of actors known for their turbulent marriage in real life. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are George and Martha, she the daughter of a college president and he a professor at the same school. At the time of the film they have been married for years and are seemingly completely overtaken by bitterness, staying together only because they'd be even worse off apart. The story begins when they stumble home drunk from a party, only for Martha to announce that the night is not over because another, younger professor from the party is coming over with his wife for drinks. What follows is a night that is both extremely uncomfortable and darkly hilarious, with a few heavy moments and startling revelations along the way.

The movie is based on a play, and you can tell pretty easily, as the entire thing takes place in one drunken night, mostly in a single location, and there are only four actual characters, all played by actors who were nominated for Oscars for their efforts. The younger pair acquit themselves pretty well in their roles, but the movie is definitely all about the work of Burton and Taylor. The material simply wouldn't work the way it does if they couldn't convey both the venom and the lingering affection that would come from such a disaster of a coupling, and they both do a great job. There's some absolutely amazingly hateful stuff being done and said in this movie, and it wouldn't even be watchable, let alone great if they didn't get it right. Even if you have some difficulty watching it, the movie is worth sticking it out until the end, because some things come out about their relationship that make some sense out of a lot that came before, while adding even more levels of dysfunction to it. It doesn't really make what they do to each other the entire time less evil, though.

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