Monday, July 2, 2018

Movie Review: Mrs. Hyde

Mrs. Hyde ** / *****
Directed by: Serge Bozon.
Written by: Serge Bozon.
Starring: Isabelle Huppert (Marie Géquil / Madame Hyde), Romain Duris (Le proviseur), José Garcia (Pierre Géquil), Adda Senani (Malik), Guillaume Verdier (Le stagiaire), Patricia Barzyk (La voisine), Pierre Léon (L'inspecteur), Belkacem Lalaoui (Belkacem), Youssouf Diagouraga (Youssouf).
Isabelle Huppert is one of the greatest of all working actresses today – and certainly the most fearless. There is hardly anything she cannot do, and she throws herself into complex, challenging roles like in numerous Michael Haneke films (most notably The Piano Teacher) or in the film that finally earned her an Oscar nomination – Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. One the surface, she would seem to be a good choice to do a modern, gendered swapped version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – but in practice the resulting film, Mrs. Hyde, never really works. Huppert isn’t really the problem – the film itself doesn’t really know what to do with itself – but I’m not sure she helps it that much either.
When the film opens Mrs. Gequil (Huppert) is a timid, shy, quiet high school science teacher – unpopular with her students and the fellow teachers, and given the “technical” students – a nice way of saying the bad ones who aren’t likely to go onto college. She commands no respect from anyone in her class – she tries hard, but cannot do anything to control them, and class usually devolves into the students mocking her. She is married – her husband (Jose Garcia) is a house husband – and interesting choice, I wish the movie explored more – but is quiet in her marriage as well.
About a third of the way into the film, she is working in her “lab” – which is really a trailer on the high school grounds – when it is stuck by lightning, and she gets electrocuted. When she awakes – she has changed. Power sometimes goes out around her, dogs bark at her, her husband wonders what happened to the “delicate” woman he married. Even the idiot principal (Roman Duris) – one of those pathetic high school staff members who tries hard to dress cool and relate to the kids, notices something different about her. She starts to become more confident in class – starts to command more respect. She even reaches out to Malik (Adda Senani) – a student who has to use a walker, who was particularly merciless with her, perhaps because for once the kids aren’t picking on him. In him, she instills a love of the science that previously he did not have. Oh, and sometimes she also glows – turning herself into pure energy. When she does this, she can kill.
Written and directed by Serge Bozon, the film is a weird blend of comedy and drama, with elements of horror coming in near the end of the film. None of it really works in part because just as Bozon’s film seems to be going in an interesting direction, it backs away and tries something else. There are elements here I wish were explored more fully – her marriage is a big one, but also why she reaches out to Malik, why he responds the way he does, and why ultimately she does what she does when she heads out into the projects. Bozon is clearly trying to explore some of the racial stereotypes in France – the white French woman, teaching a largely Arab and African class, but he doesn’t really go anywhere with it. The horror elements are raced through – the special effects are not great, which don’t help. The most thrilling scene in the film may be when Malik learns to think through a math problem.
There is a streak of humor in the film – in fact a few. I didn’t really like the over the top nature of Duris as the idiot principal – he’s trying way too hard, and it doesn’t work. There are a few hilarious deadpan moments though – the best being a memorial for a student, where it becomes clear no one really knew him, and the words undercut the normal sentimentality.
But overall, Mrs. Hyde feels like a movie that spins its wheels more than anything. It seems like Bozon wanted to try and do many things in the film – and he tries to cram them all in, but they all feel half formed. It’s interesting to see Huppert in a role where she isn’t completely in control – where she’s timid and meek. It’s completely unlike what she normally does – and I don’t think it quite works. It’s kind of like when Meryl Streep did Hope Springs with Tommy Lee Jones – where she played the quiet wife of a man struggling with retirement, and this normal force of nature becomes quiet and mild. It doesn’t really work – but it’s interesting to see them try. And in Mrs. Hyde, that’s really all the there to the film.

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