The Girl (2012) / Drama
MPAA rated: Not rated but probably PG-13 for mature subject matter
Running time: 90 min.
Cast: Sienna Miller, Toby Jones, Imelda Staunton, Sean Cameron Michael, Penelope Wilton, Candice D'Arcy
Director: Julian Jarrold
Screenplay: Gwyneth Hughes
The Girl is a made-for-HBO film, which generally means a high-quality drama that appeals to people who like good movies that aren't quite striving for mass appeal. Most of the interest to this film will primarily be from those who enjoy the works of great director Alfred Hitchcock, and those interested in the untold stories behind beloved historical and cultural figures.
The subject matter of The Girl is the tale of Tippi Hedren (Miller, GI Joe), a fashion model who was discovered by Hitchcock (Jones, Snow White and the Huntsman) when his wife Alma (Staunton, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I) had seen the icy blonde in a cola commercial. Ever since the retirement of Grace Kelly from films, Hitch had been looking for her replacement in elegance, sophistication, and glamour. Although Hedren was a compete neophyte when it came to the movies or acting in general, there was something Hitch saw in her that compelled him to continue to work with her, and he felt that, so long as she just did what he said, she would be able to succeed.
The real juice of the film isn't really how Hitch and Hedren related to one another on the set of The Birds, though much of the film indeed is about that. What the movie would rather portray is Hedren's claims that Hitchcock had become obsessed with her romantically, and on a couple of occasions, harassing her into the possibility of having an affair with him. Although Hitchcock had no reputation of straying from his marriage with Alma, it is supposed that Hedren's unknown, untied to Hollywood status made her uniquely vulnerable to Hitch's advances, and that he might be especially attracted to her complete submissiveness in doing whatever needed to be done to make the film a success, and it brought out a certain sado-masochistic side. In one of the film's prolonged sequences, the normally meticulously prepared Hitchcock films the attic scene when Hedren would be attacked by real-live birds for five days, when what had originally been called for was a one-day shoot with mechanical birds.
The sexual politics would continue in their next collaboration, Marnie, in which Hedren would play a frigid compulsive thief and liar who would be tamed by an aggressive huntsman and successful businessman. The notable scene from this film is the one in which Hitch called for the forcing of sexual consummation between Marnie and her new husband, perhaps echoing Hitchcock's desire to do the same with Hedren, who had rebuffed his advances continuously. The film contends that Hedren put up with Hitchcock's cruelty and sexual lechery in order to make a living (she was under contract), but also to show that her spirit could not be broken.
The acting is of good quality, but the characters themselves are a bit one-dimensional. Toby Jones does a nice job mimicking the director's signature British drawl, but looks so strange with the fat suit on that it actually makes the portly director seem monstrous. In real life, one might imagine a hot, young starlet might be charmed by Hitchcock's humor and success, despite his age and stature, but as played by Jones, the man comes across as physically repulsive and without a shred of redeeming personality. The only times when he actually does look like Hitchcock is from behind, particularly in silhouette. Meanwhile, Sienna Miller doesn't bother to try to sound like Hedren at all, other than to affect an American accent. Miller is even more alluring, mature and glamorous from a Hollywood perspective than the real-life Hedren, who might be described as cute in face and slight in frame, which makes the chasm between beauty and beast that much more horrifying a situation.
Hedren, even to this day, chose not to expose to the public the difficulties she experienced with Alfred Hitchcock, though she did throw out the occasional hint, and did eventually talk about it in more detail. The idea of the film didn't come from a slighted actress with an axe to grind, but more from those who thought the salacious details of Hitchcock's sexual sadism might make for an interesting story, which had been mostly detailed in Donald Spoto's 2009 book, "Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies". That bit of salaciousness is extracted by longtime TV screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes (Miss Austen Regrets, Beneath the Skin), albeit without a good deal of nuance, and directed by Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots, Becoming Jane) in a fairly soap-ish dramatic way.
Even through the turmoil, Hitchcock was able to direct a classic chiller in The Birds, and get a solid performance out of Hedren, despite her lack of experience. Even Marnie, which had been seen as a misfire at the time of release, has been re-evaluated as a good Hitchcock film, even though The Girl ends with an overambitious claim of it being a masterpiece, which few people not named Robin Wood might champion. The Girl isn't quite good enough to claim as an essential companion piece for those who enjoyed those films, but it is interesting, even if many of the scenes are pure conjecture. Perhaps a bit more style in terms of the psychological exploration of Hitchcock might have made the piece more compelling, but instead, it's more of a surface piece, detailing events from Hedren's perspective, without much commentary into the reasons why other than our own surmising.
From Hedren's perspective, Hitchcock did what he could to ruin her career. From Hitchcock's perspective, which isn't given here, he tried to make her a star, and when she became rebellious, he no longer helped her along. In subsequent interviews, Hedren does speak well of Hitchcock as a filmmaker, and does offer positive things to say about her experiences, so it's hard to say where the truth actually lies. However, after a screening which she attended with her daughter, Melanie Griffith,, Tippi does appear to give The Girl her stamp of approval, and it may open her up more as to the details of her relationship with the director that she dismisses most of the time as amiable and instructive. Still, even if the events of The Girl are the gospel truth, she appears quite proud of the two movies she had made with the Master of Suspense, especially as the notoriety of the films and her participation in them have helped her to fulfill a passion, perhaps not coincidentally, for helping abused animals, particularly those who've been tortured at the hands of over-aggressive, sadistic showmen.
©2012 Vince Leo