Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mrs. Henderson Presents (Frears, 2005)

The subject matter for Mrs. Henderson Presents is very much like the film itself – unfocused inanity peppered with musical numbers and beautiful naked women. Though it is often rather likable -- due solely to the charm of cast members like Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins and Christopher Guest -- Mrs. Henderson is also woefully frivolous, with gags that barely register and a storyline that leaves no imprint. Despite its efforts to paint a picture of one woman’s unusual contribution to the war effort, it is doubtful that this film will linger with viewers much more than a day or so after they leave the cinema. The film is either about a widow’s attempt to carry on with life after her husband’s death, or about the place of nudity in art, or about an unusual partnership between two headstrong people who nonetheless find business success, or about the role of light entertainment in times of war, or about a mother’s attempt to live vicariously through others in order to compensate for the loss of her soldier son … or, perhaps, the film is about all of these things, but not about any one of them deeply enough to be wholly satisfying. Ultimately, the film is content to stand up for the concept of ‘joy’ – not exactly a controversial notion, but then this is not a film intended for anything more than knocking down the flimsiest of targets. The Nazis were bad. Check. War is hell. Check. Boobies are great. Check. Perhaps the primary reason that Mrs. Henderson doesn’t work is that we now live in an age where both war and light entertainment are unending. Distractions like the sort Mrs. Henderson offers serve to keep the citizenry uninterested in world affairs, and train them to allow their emotions to be swept up by cheap sentiment. Perhaps this troubling contradiction could have found a place in a more sophisticated film that wasn’t so willing to dismiss the theatre as a tool for frivolous distraction.



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