April 12, 2007

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Miss Potter (PG)
Rene Zellweger gives her Bridget Jones shtick a polish to play The Tale of Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter in Miss Potter, an ever-so-soft genteel biopic of a genteel author.

It’s early in the 20th century in London and Beatrix (Zellweger) is a quiet woman from a well-off family who is over 30 and more fond of animals than people. This tendency to call her drawings of rabbits and geese “my friends” is sort of sad but it also helps her tell charming little stories about them, one of which, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, she convinces two brothers to publish. Little does she know that they agreed to take the book just to give their brother Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor) something trivial to do in hopes that he’d screw it up. Naturally, Norman and Beatrix make a great success of the book and then go on to publish other Potter tales that make her a popular author, much to the horror of Beatrix’s social climbing mother (Barbara Flynn). But when Norman tells Beatrix he’d like their partnership to be more than just business, will her parents consent to their daughter marrying “a tradesman”?

There is exactly one moment of ant-hill-sized dramatic upheaval in the movie and it isn’t over that question. Miss Potter is a quiet polite movie that tells a quiet polite story. Toward its final moments it tries to kick up a bit of hay about Potter’s conservation leanings — her struggles against developers from the city has a modern ring to it — but even that is the most PG and bunny-soft of hay-kickings.

Which isn’t to say Miss Potter is a bad movie. There’s a snap missing from Zellweger’s and McGregor’s performances and Emily Watson as her equally old-maid-ish friend is more costume than character. But none of this flatness hurts the film anymore than it just doesn’t add any of the expected luster (all three of those actors have shined elsewhere). This is the kind of movie you could take a 10-year-old girl and her 60-something grandmother to and all of you (assuming you were a woman or a very tolerant man somewhere north of 25) would have a decent enough time. And perhaps it’s better as a movie that you are seeing with people you are desperate not to offend. That way you’ll concentrate more on how comfortable you are and less on how precious everything is. B-

Rated PG for brief mild language. Directed by Chris Noonan and written by Richard Maltby Jr., Miss Potter is an hour and 32 minutes long and is currently playing at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre. It is distributed by the Weinstein Company.