Rental Pick: Woman in Gold (2015)

WomanInGoldPoster

Maria Altmann, an octogenarian Jewish refugee, takes on the Austrian government to recover artwork she believes rightfully belongs to her family.

Let me start by saying that Dame Helen Mirren is one of my favorite actresses I’d watch in practically anything. She’s easily one of the best things of any film, including this one.

As a woman whose torn apart from her family in Vienna, Maria Altmann is given the chance to take back what’s rightfully hers, but she must also face her dark past in the process. Woman in Gold has a historical significance, but what drew me to the story is the personal connection.
WomanInGold_Mirren_MaslanyFollowing her sister’s funeral, Maria discovered letters dating back to the 40s that prompted her to reclaim her family’s artwork. She enlisted help from an inexperienced lawyer who happened to be the son of a friend, Randol ‘Randy’ Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). I have to admit I’m not enthused on Reynolds’ casting and in the end, his performance confirmed my dread.

The film utilizes several flashback sequences of Maria’s once-blissful life with her affluent family. It’s a close-knit Jewish family but she’s her aunt Adele’s favorite (Antje Traue), who was the subject of famed Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (also called The Woman in Gold, hence the title) is practically the Mona Lisa of Austria. Though the monetary value is clearly substantial, the personal value is what’s priceless to Maria. I find myself more drawn to the flashback scenes, I was quite impressed by Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany as the young Maria. That goodbye scene with her parents was such a tearjerker.

WomanInGold_Antje_PaintingIn fact, it felt like a different film entirely as the tone is far more serious and emotional. In fact, the scenes where Maria and her then husband Fritz (Max Irons) were chased by the Nazi officers was pretty intense. In contrast to the contemporary scenes in both L.A. and Vienna, the tone is rather whimsical and at times it didn’t seem to have the gravitas the story deserves. Now, I don’t blame Reynolds entirely, as it’s more of a writing and directing issue, but his casting doesn’t help. He’s fine when the role requires him to be whimsical, but I find him entirely unconvincing in the emotional scenes. I just don’t think he’s got dramatic chops, though I suppose I should give him props for trying. It’s quite infuriating to see a perfectly capable actor like Daniel Brühl [as the Austrian journalist who helped Maria’s cause] not given much to do.

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Overall I enjoyed this film, there are some emotional as well as fun moments sprinkled throughout. Yet, whenever the film hit a particularly poignant note, the next scene strikes an entirely different note that it seems rather jarring. I understand that perhaps director Simon Curtis injected humor to make the film less heavy-handed, but the movie became so uneven in the process.

That said, if you’re intrigued by the story, this is certainly worth a rent. It’s not exactly a work of art by any means, but I definitely like it more than Monuments Men. Of course having Helen Mirren in the lead makes the film all the more fascinating. I’d still recommend this one if you like historical dramas, I find the flashback scenes in Austria to be especially compelling.

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Have you seen Woman in Gold? What did you think?

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21 thoughts on “Rental Pick: Woman in Gold (2015)

  1. Hi Ruth, nice review. I saw it recently. I would have given it 3.0 stars. Helen is always wonderful, and it was nice to see Reynolds playing an atypical role. I did love the story and I liked the cinematography when she flash-backed through her Austrian home giving the impression of ghosts in the room. I guess I thought it dragged a little and I was somehow disappointed with the ending. I guess I assumed there’d be a court scene, but it was just one more trial after another referred to in conversation but the drama not actualized. Something felt flat to me. Still, wasn’t a bad watch and I teared up a couple times.

    1. Hi Cindy! I think I was more generous as I LOVE Dame Mirren and Tatyana Maslany here, I think both of their performances were better than the film. I was bored by some of the court scenes too, and some the dramatic scenes lacked punch but still I’m glad I knew a bit more about the history of this painting.

    1. Hi Dan! Ahah, true it does have some corny moments and that one scene when Reynolds tried to cry unsuccessfully :\ It could’ve been a much better film I agree, but for me, having Dame Mirren always makes it more watchable.

    1. Yeah, I almost didn’t want to see this one because of Reynolds’ casting too, but I love Dame Mirren too much not to see it, but I’m glad I did as I like Maslany here as well and the little bit of Daniel Brühl when he’s on screen.

  2. Good review! I’m racking my brain on the last Hellen Mirren movie I’ve watched haha. I’m glad to see Tatiana Maslany is getting movie roles, she’s quite the talent. So she plays the younger version of Mirren’s character eh … cool!

    1. Hi Eddie! It’s the first time I saw Maslany and I was so impressed w/ her. Helen Mirren is so awesome, and she always elevates everything she’s in.

  3. Nice review! I avoided this one. It came and went with pretty much no advertisement or ink (I never even saw a trailer) and so it was kind of apparent that the studio threw it away because they didn’t think it was good…but I do love Mirren so I may have to check this one out. My wife loves her too, so win-win!

    1. Hi Drew! Yeah, it’s very under the radar which is too bad as it’s a story worth telling. I don’t think it’s a terrible film, I mean Mirren is still very good and so was Maslany. So yeah, give it a rent!

    1. Hi Keith, sorry I wasn’t sure if you saw the film or not. I think the material could’ve been handled better to make it a truly poignant historical drama, instead it was almost too flippant at times. Still there are scenes I really like here and so I still recommend the movie as a rental.

  4. Tom

    It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen Woman in Gold, but I remember really liking Helen Mirren in it; she’s a phenomenal actress. (and my mom met her after a play in New York recently!!! 😉 )

    You’re onto something about the tonal imbalance, for sure. I thought the film was decent but it had something weird going on that I couldn’t quite put a finger on. Surely it was the comedic and dramatic shifts that were doing it. Well-intentioned if slightly muddled movie.

    1. I really like Mirren in practically everything, including this one. Ooooh how cool that your mom has met her in person, man I’d so love to be in her presence.

      I think the whimsical tone in the present day is not handled very well, it just seems too flippant for the subject matter. Or maybe I just don’t like Reynolds in general and so his casting affects how I feel about the movie, too.

      1. Tom

        Yeah it was a really odd bit of casting. I didn’t mind him in it but he could’ve been totally replaced by someone else and it wouldn’t have mattered. The writing, like you said, was pretty flimsy.

  5. Julie

    Hi Ruth, I saw this movie a couple months ago and I was actually intrigue by the storyline. I can’t believe the history behind this painting by Klimt. It definitely amplifies my curiosity behind every painting I look at in the museum now. I was definitely balling during the farewell scene from the parents. Surprisingly Reynolds did a good job in this movie as I am not really a fan of his. Mirren, oh well she always does a great job. I really enjoyed this movie. The father-daughter bond gave me a warm fuzzy feel 🙂

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