October 8, 2009

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Bright Star (PG)
Poet John Keats is in big kissy swoony love with Fanny Brawne in Bright Star, a sumptuous chocolate truffle of a romance.

John Keats (Ben Whishaw) is a poet of some renown (though not all of his reviews have been positive) and more or less no money. It’s only through the kindness of his slightly wealthier friend Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider, who, yes, under that facial hair and Scottish accent is Mark Brendanawicz on Parks and Recreation) that he’s able to live in the social circle with Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) and her family. Fanny is pretty and fashion-conscious and has the potential to make a good marriage — “good” of the kind that does not involve marrying a poor poet. But girls always go for the dark-eyed trouble-making boys who can spin a breath-taking compliment (the line about three summer days with Fanny being better than 50 common years), so Fanny and John find themselves increasingly drawn together.

I have to say that Bright Star didn’t make me as interested in Keats as did a recent Slate podcast that talked about his place among the Romantic poets and how his relatively low class status affected the seriousness with which he was treated during his life. That had me searching my old lit books for Keats poems and bios. Bright Star could have substituted any two names for those of Keats and Fanny. It is more about love, specifically the perfect love you find in poetry, the kind that is usually quite different than the love of real life. We don’t get to know our two romantics’ stories as well as we do their personalities — Fanny is a fun-loving, flirty girl who enjoys creating beautiful things with fabric (she would be a shoo-in for Project Runway), Keats here is a moody, floppy-haired young man who would be at home in an indie band as he is pining for Fanny. The movie is a satisfying romance not so much because of anything Fanny and John say or do but because of how they are — the starry-eyed Fanny who lays in a field of purple flowers thinking of John, the dramatically despondent Fanny when she thinks he doesn’t love her, the ecstatic Fanny who lets the breeze from her window blow over her with the most un-19th-century look on her face. Actually, I suppose it’s Fanny who does most of the romantic scene-setting. But Cornish is able to portray this first-blush-of-True-Love stuff well and in a way that doesn’t make it seem like the stuff of teen novels (which it easily could have).

And if you like romance — honest-to-goodness, sans-Kate-Hudson, not-rom-com romance — Bright Star is a real treat. You won’t learn anything from it, it doesn’t need to turn any genre on its head. It is a heaving bosom tale told with more deftness and beauty than you normally get in such fare. B

Rated PG for thematic elements, some sensuality, brief language and incidental smoking. Written and directed by Jane Campion, Bright Star is an hour and 59 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Apparition. It is playing, at least through Oct. 8, at Red River Theatres in Concord and the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.