MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #91. Sophie’s Choice (1982)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

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“When I could finally see again, I saw the first rays of daylight reflected in the murky river. This was not judgment day. Only morning; morning, excellent and fair.”

The term ‘Oscar Bait’ gets thrown around a lot, always as a negative, and almost always deservedly so. But sometimes, something that reeks of Oscar bait can tick all of the required boxes, but instead of coming off as pandering, it comes off as prestigious Oscar bait in all the right ways. Overly melodramatic, big showcase performances, heart string pulling manipulation, and of course, the Holocaust. You get all of that that in Sophie’s Choice, and you also get a pretty amazing movie.

It’s post WWII Brooklyn, and Peter MacNicol’s Stingo moves into a boarding house where he hopes to write the great American novel. Through his ceiling, he hears the alternating sounds of banging and brawling from the couple who lives upstairs. A couple who he soon meets, made up of Polish immigrant and Holocaust survivor, Meryl Streep as Sophie, and cocky, brash research scientist Nathan, played by Kevin Kline.

After a rocky start, the trio are soon inseparable best friends, as Sophie and Nathan show the young and innocent Stingo the ways of the world. Stingo’s book starts to take shape, Nathan brags about breakthroughs regularly occurring in his lab and Sophie builds a new life for herself. So of course, none of this happiness can’t last long. Where do we go for ultimate bummer? A flashback to Sophie’s time at Auschwitz, of course.

With the core group of characters, I kept waiting for the love triangle to rear its ugly head and be the main cause of conflict for the rest of the movie. And while it hints at that and kind of deals with it here and there, it never makes it the central issue. It’s good to see a movie that predictably hit most the expected notes in so many ways, but still managed to avoid what I thought was going to be the most obvious and hokey. Even when the love triangle does inflict itself on the story, it’s there to service the plot in unexpected ways.

Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline are both phenomenal in Sophie’s Choice, but for me in 2015, that was fully expected. At the time, it was only Kline’s first or second movie, so it must have been great to see this unknown come out of nowhere, grab this huge role and tackle it so well. I didn’t have that advantage, because I’ve had 30 years of Kline being awesome before seeing him here. But I did get a big surprise with MacNicol. Before this, I thought of him as the little foreign dude from Ghostbusters 2, and the little dude from Ally McBeal But here, he’s up against two fantastic actors in two fantastic roles, and he more than holds his own.

In my opening paragraph, I called Sophie’s Choice and amazing movie, and I meant it. I also can’t imagine I will ever watch it ever, ever again. I don’t think it’s amazing because the story touched me in any way. I actually think the story is kind of cheesy and obvious. But watching Streep, Kline and MacNicol deliver the way they do for two and a half hours is something I won’t forget anytime soon.

Sophie’s Choice
Directed By – Alan J. Pakula
Written By – William Styron 

Academy Awards
Best Actress – Meryl Streep

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