'Sylvia' fails to pay tribute to poet

    here is always a stigma when adapting a historical figure’s life to film, a precarious balance that determines if the film is a hit or a miss. “”Sylvia”” is a miss.

    Courtesy of Focus Films
    Not so lovely: Even the dazzling Gwyneth Paltrow canÕt save this biopic of author Sylvia Plath from succumbing to the typical Hollywood love story.

    Directed by New Zealand filmmaker Christine Jeffs, “”Sylvia”” is an ineffective examination of the last decade of American writer Sylvia Plath’s life. Partially adapted from Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes (Plath’s late husband, played by Daniel Craig), the film paints a superficial portrait of Plath and Hughes’ relationship. Most know very little of the depressed poet’s life. At the most, they know the disturbing fact that she committed suicide by sticking her head in her kitchen oven. “”Sylvia”” adds little more to the legend.

    The hype around Gwyneth Paltrow as Plath seems to explain the lack of focus on the script. Paltrow plays a devastatingly lovely but tortured Plath, but even she cannot pull the weight of the poorly constructed storyline.

    The film begins when Plath meets Hughes, a charismatic poet at the beginning of his career. Paltrow and Craig’s distinctly haunting chemistry quickly dissolves in the lackluster plot. Too much of Plath’s life story is told through obvious dialogues in an attempt to bridge the gap between Plath-before-Hughes and Plath-after-Hughes. This rushed storytelling in effect destroys a potentially beautiful film.

    The underdeveloped backstory of Plath becomes the Achilles heel of the film. There is nothing engaging about the character to give a tender balance to the arrogant and self-indulgent loudmouth she becomes with Hughes. In fact, Plath the poet spends very little time writing in the film and too much time rocking herself back and forth, baking uneaten goods and neglecting her children. Hughes’ character is altogether ignored. He has no motives for his actions, which further confuses his influence on Plath’s depression.

    “”Sylvia”” is redeemed slightly with gorgeous art direction loaded with scenes of muddy fields in England, turquoise glass oceans in New England, and dark, dingy homes. A visit to America and Plath’s cozy, cheery childhood home provides a stark contrast to the cold, dim home Hughes creates for them in England. The contrast between Plath’s youth and marriage is more blatant through art direction than through narrative. Scenes are heavily laden with symbolism and the costumes are carefully chosen to set the mood.

    While the film has attempts at subtle art direction and an Oscar-winning leading actress, it is completely unforgivable to have a tedious narrative that hardly pays tribute to the legendary writer.

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