Zach: Hello friends! I have once again poked my head back into the ether of our reality, and I come bearing a gift: another Celebrity Shot Movie Review! This review was written by my good friend, Chris Nordstrom. Chris and I have been friends since the 8th grade when he moved from Weston and bravely sat next to me at lunch. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have the guts to do that since I am still, to this very day, deathly afraid of teenagers and social interactions.
It was a good thing that he was braver than I since he might be the person I have the most in common with. Chris, similar to me, studied Political Science in college. Although, he’s a try-hard and got his Masters while I fiddled around on a blog about movies. Our Sophomore year of high school, Chris and I went to Star Wars Celebration where we were in the same room as George Lucas. 6 years later, we were able to rally more friend to go again (where he introduced me to Kyle, the author of the last Celebrity Shot), this time as sophisticated adults, with keys and credit cards, and responsibilities. Together, we met Mark Hamill (Whom I accidentally rubbed beards with) and, before his passing, the late Stan Lee.
Not a day has gone by in the past 6 years or so that I haven’t spoken to him in some form. Chris is always down for a good intellectual sparring, but not above a stupid joke about butts or some nonsense. And, maybe his greatest superpower, Chris has somehow maintained a massive collection of the most random and unflattering pictures of all of his friends that he will not hesitate to pull out, whether you provoke him or not. Be aware, if he knows who you are, it’s already too late…
Anywho, I think you get the picture. Please enjoy his review of “Ammonite”.
Ammonite stars Kate Winslet as the remarkable albeit little-known real-life figure Mary Anning, a 19th century Victorian Era British self-taught paleontologist who resides on the chilly coastline of Lyme Regis. The film is the second full length picture to be directed by Francis Lee (who happens to be a self-taught filmmaker himself).
Admittedly, I went to see this movie on a pure whim. I thought the two-sentence premise sounded interesting enough and so I went off to see the film in a theater that was superbly clean and social distanced (empty). For the next one hundred and twenty minutes, I had the most sublime experience I’ve had in all of 2020 in theaters (okay it was also the only time I’ve spent in a movie theater this year).
This film starts off more than a bit slow, wandering and some would probably argue uninteresting. We witness Mary Anning, a hard-working and weathered looking 40-something British woman and her elderly mother living in a modest two-story home that doubles as a gift shop of sorts in Lyme, England. Mary forages for, excavates and collects fossils from the seashore and sells them to tourists and travelers that come into town. Mary is intensely focused upon her work and seems wholly uninterested in anything or anyone else. That is until Roderick and Charlotte Murchison, a posh married couple, enter her store. Roderick is a mostly oblivious bloke whose hobby of the month happens to be paleontology and so, based on her noted reputation, he requests to tag along with Mary for a few days and learn from her. Before long, he wants to move along and continue his scientific journey across Europe. However, he acknowledges that his wife is suffering from depression (or as it described in the film, melancholia) and deems her unable to continue on his trip. So, he arranges Charlotte to stay behind in Lyme for the next month or so and offers to pay Mary a sizable sum to look after her and accompany her on scavenges and excavations. Begrudgingly, Mary accepts this offer and the rest of the story unfolds: slow burning, organic and poignant romance.
Before addressing the acting and writing, I’d like to do a brief run-down of notable components of this film.
While I am unfortunately no expert on 19th century England, the set and costume design feel true to the era. Combined with superb acting performances, the end product is a small, quiet and listless Victorian Era coastal town that feels so very real and lived-in throughout the film.
The sound design is a high point in this film: from the violent, crashing waves on the rocky seashore to the scratching, plucking and prodding of fossils to the creaky and quiet mood of the wooden homes that make up Lyme – this film makes the viewer feel, viscerally, the sensations of what it must have been like to live in the era in which it takes place, surely the benchmark for any period piece.
The soundtrack appears seldomly but is effective in the few spots it is deployed. The sparse violin and soft piano match perfectly with the quaint and dreary atmosphere of Lyme.
All of these aspects set the stage for Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan – and boy do they deliver. Their chemistry is understated yet compelling and in brief moments, fiery and evocative. This film most certainly is not for everyone, there is no action to speak of and it mostly revolves around body language and facial gestures to convey the story. Kate Winslet in particular shines in this regard. Mary is almost entirely closed off from meaningful human connection and her personality is devoid of warmth or joy, that is until Charlotte enters her orbit. Charlotte in the film is a traditionally beautiful Victorian woman, piercing blue eyes, smooth flawless pale skin and a thin build. The camera is pleased to linger on her facial features whenever it can. Mary’s frozen heart begins to thaw when she is forced to take care of Charlotte after she develops hypothermia following a dip into the English Channel. After several days of development of a Doctor-Patient kind of relationship, both women warm to each other and a friendship is formed. Charlotte develops both an appreciation and genuine interest in Mary’s work. As they spend more time with each other cohabiting a small home, sexual tension slowly builds and permeates their atmosphere. The camera wisely makes sure to linger in all the right moments to highlight this subtle, sometimes even subconscious, attraction between the two. Inevitably, the tension boils over and explodes into two fiery and raw romantic sequences which feel righteously earned given the film’s leisurely pace.
As often is the case in life, once Mary and Charlotte reach the apex of their relationship, Charlotte is whisked away back to London to reunite with her husband. You can feel the soul crushing agony that her departure creates for Mary, who has led a solitary life dedicated to her work (which she has received little to no recognition for). I won’t discuss the finale of this film in hopes that folks will see it for themselves, but I will say that the ending sequence is magnificent, thought provoking and open ended.
I found this film to feel, truly, like a glimpse into a bygone era of a story that had been long forgotten but has been necessarily brought back into the forefront of our attention. It exhibits much of what makes cinema not only great – but a transcendent art form. This film will delight romantics, introverts and especially – romantic introverts with an affinity for emo vibes and long walks on the beach. With that being said, Ammonite was my favorite movie of 2020 and I humbly assign it the score of 9.5/10
Directed by: Francis Lee
Starring: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones, James McArdle
Runtime: 2 Hours
Zach: I’d like to thank Chris for taking the time to write this review! It means the world to me when my friends want to get involved with my silly blog. If you feel the itch to come up here and speak your mind, be my guest! Reach out to me on social media, or message me directly if you know me like that. Having more voices can only give us new perspectives.