Adapting a book that’s so successful even people who don’t read know about it can be a huge risk. Fans of the book devour every page and either look forward to seeing it brought to life or are terrified that it will be botched. Those unfamiliar with the source material will find a movie version as a more relaxed substitute than putting in the time to read a rather thick novel. Adaptations do create interesting table conversation whether it’s good or bad. THE GOLDFINCH, based on Donna Tartt’s best-selling novel is so monotone that it seems the script itself was on Xanax when created.
Thirteen-year-old Theodore survives a bombing at a New York City museum that kills his mother. With his father out of the picture, he is taken in by an old friend’s family. It’s there he finds solitude in Samantha (Nicole Kidman) as a loving mother figure who shows patience and compassion even to those who might need harsher consequences. Theo is clearly traumatized by the bombing and socially awkward so it’s hard for him to cope when he finally feels like he has a family again when his newly sober father (Luke Wilson) shows up with his not so bright girlfriend (Sarah Paulson).
What ensues is a narrative that goes back and forth as we watch (young and adult) Theo experiment with drugs and alcohol to cope. Adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) works with antiques and finds himself in a bit of trouble when a customer accuses him of selling a fake and won’t take money in return. This all is connected by the fact that Theo stole a Carel Fabritius painting known as The Goldfinch when the bombing happened. This holds sentimental value for him and for collectors, the painting has a history that makes it iconic.
There’s a lot of story that is told in THE GOLDFINCH, yet none of it seems to matter. It plays out like a tear-jerker of a drama, but there’s nothing you want to care about. Art feels like it should play a bigger role here as it’s Theo’s passion, but it’s merely pointed out every so often to remind us of the title and stolen painting. There’s no real transition into adulthood, just plot points the script is trying to hit to please fans of the book. It’s the less entertaining version of White Oleander, which I adore despite its flaws.
Kidman has always been a terrific actress, but here, she is a mere zombie, never displaying emotion even when she has tears in her eyes. Her lines are delivered in a robotic manner that would be more fitting in her remake of The Stepford Wives. Elgort approaches the role as awards material so lots of credit to him, but the material just doesn’t have the juice a talented actor like him needs. There are so many characters thrown around, I honestly had to remind myself who was who, especially when meeting older versions of them. There’s just not much to remember them by and the same can be said of this movie. THE GOLDFINCH is now available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital.