The Hours (2002) Movie Review

At one point in “The Hours”, Claire Danes’ character states to her depressed mother, “All of your friends are sad,” prompting me to think, “The reason, my dear, is because you’re in a Serious Art House movie!” Covered from end to end in misery, depression, gay characters, hints at incest, literary symbolisms and motifs, “The Hours” was made for a select group of people, and the rest of us need not apply.

The film opens with the suicide of English novelist Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman, in heavy prosthetic makeup), effectively signaling that we’re destined to sit through two hours of nonstop thrills and chills and — oh wait, I forgot, this is a Serious Art House Movie, and as we all know, the first rule of a Serious Art House movie is that there can be no happiness. I repeat: there can be no happiness whatsoever.

With that out of the way, “The Hours” uses nifty scene transitions to shift between three different eras in order to follow three different women as they struggle through a single day (the “hours” of the title). There’s the eternally depressed, morbid, and always on the verge of suicide Woolf in the 1920s; there’s Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), a depressed, morbid, and on the verge of suicide housewife in the 50s; and Clarissa (Meryl Streep), a depressed lesbian caring for her depressed, morbid, and on the verge of suicide brother in 2001 New York. Are you starting to see a pattern here?

It should be obvious by now that I approach movies like “The Hours” and its ilk the way I approach my trip to the dentist’s chair — I try to make it as quick and as painless as possible. I do this for the simple reason that movies like “The Hours” was not made for me, a person who doesn’t think movies should give me ideas about the many ways to off myself. “The Hours” was made to win awards from film critics with delusions of pretension and self-important New York artists who think throwing fecal matter on a canvas is “great art.” It’s a limited audience to be sure, unless one takes “The Hours” to be an example of the real world, in which case everyone is gay, secretly wants to screw their siblings, and are on the verge of suicide because they’re “deep thinkers” and have already realized, unlike us sheep, that life is meaningless.

Screenwriter David Hare and director Stephen Daldry essentially uses the lives of Laura and Clarissa to act out Woolf’s most famous novel, “Mrs. Dalloway.” If you’ve never read the novel, don’t worry, because neither has most of the world. (That thing about us not being “deep thinkers” again; and even if we did read it, the novel would be too “hard” of a read for us to “get through” anyways.) The movie makes it clear what it’s trying to do, and in fact the only worry I had was that the film might stumble on its own perceived cleverness and fall flat on its face.

The acting by the three female leads is quite good, but then you probably expected that. The presence of indie favorites Streep and Moore weren’t a surprise; the two women give their usual good Serious Art House movie performances, and I didn’t expect anything less from them. Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, was a spectacular surprise. The glamour is gone, replaced by a prosthetic nose and God knows what else. She’s almost unrecognizable, and her so-depressed-she-makes-me-want-to-off-myself Virginia Woolf is a revelation. If nothing else, you gotta give them that: they came to play, and play they did. It’s too bad it’s all so damn depressing.

“The Hours” wasn’t made for the public, but rather for a small group of people obsessed with patting themselves on the back. I speak, of course, about the Academy Awards and the other 200 or so award shows that come out in any given year. Miramax will release “The Hours” as their prestige film, the one movie they’re willing to lose money on just so they can claim its title on their list of credits, thus reaffirming to their peers that they’re serious about art and not that whole business thing.

Beyond those points, it’s nonetheless a very good movie if you’re into such things, buoyed by fine direction and a stellar cast. Even if you find movies like this to be as entertaining as slitting your own wrists (as I do), one can’t deny its excellent elements. I just won’t be watching it again, that’s all. Hell, if I wanted to know that life sucks and I should kill myself, I’ll just turn on CNN.

Stephen Daldry (director)
CAST: Meryl Streep …. Clarissa Vaughn
Julianne Moore …. Laura Brown
Nicole Kidman …. Virginia Woolf
Eileen Atkins …. Barbara
Linda Bassett …. Nelly

Buy The Hours on DVD