Washington Square (1997)


   

Our rating: 3 out of 5

Rated: PG

 
reviewed by Charity Bishop
 
            

The premise for this film from the back cover, as well as the romantic flair of the posters, imply that it's a romantic drama. This to some extent is true, although I personally found it very depressing, slow-moving, and utterly forgettable with bland performances. The only thing really going for it is the lovely costuming and occasional interesting camera angle. Young Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason Leigh) was brought into the world with sadness attached, for her mother passed away giving birth to her, and her father has never quite forgiven her. His enthusiasm for his adoring daughter is always droll and disapproving, and it's a small wonder that she turns to other sources for attention -- namely a handsome young man named Morris Townstead (Ben Chaplin). 

 

Her overpowering and altogether fluttery aunt (Maggie Smith) has hope in the match, and encourages such, but her father determines that her new beau is after his immense fortune and opposes the match. Morris is tentative about breaking the ties between Catherine and her father and refuses to elope at the aunt's suggestion. He instead goes to the father to ask for Catherine's hand... and it is refused. Catherine is crushed, and forbidden to again see Townstead unless it is for a final farewell. However, she finds life meaningless without him, and continues to frequent his company. In return, in an attempt to break the ties between them, her father takes her abroad for six months, which elapses into a year when she shops for a wedding gown in Paris. Morris is in the meantime pining after her, but things are never what they seem. Is he really in love with the klutzy, plain New York heiress, or does the thought of thirty thousand a year tempt his palate?

 

Washington Square is a film that could have been more, with an altogether depressing storyline, from Catherine's awkwardness to her father's self-centered hardheadedness and the low-key ending. With halfway beautiful costumes and a deplorable soundtrack that irritates rather than inspires, it'll put some to sleep, and bore others. It has a few funny moments and lines, but altogether the experience is more painful than enlightening. We blush and cringe along with Catherine when she attempts to entertain company with her voice as a little girl, and wets herself out of terror, and again when she wears the most ghastly costume to an engagement party that any girl would cringe at. There's hardly any language, but there is some blood -- the bed is covered in it after Catherine's birth, however the camera does not linger, and instead rapidly progresses on. A nude drawing (and mannequin) is found in the doctor's office as part of his research.

 

Catherine and Morris share several passionate and suggestive kisses and the aunt herself, out of some denied lack of romance in her life, subtly flirts with Morris on occasion. Some sort of sexual escapade is going on behind a curtain in a bar, but we only see vague shadows and overhear something.  Jennifer Jason Leigh was much more agreeable (if as plain) in the Hallmark's The Love Letter, but I will seek out Ben Chaplin again... he proves the only real passion in his role, as well as being interesting to look at.