Trimark // 1997 // 137 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Margo Reasner (Retired) // December 2nd, 1999
The most talked about, written about, controversial movie of the year.
Lolita can finally be seen by everyone in the comfort of their own home now that it's on DVD. In this film Jeremy Irons portrays another character struggling with his inner demons, but one wonders what all the fuss was about concerning its U.S. release.
When it came time to distribute this film in the U.S., there weren't any American distributors willing to take a chance on it because of its subject matter. It was shown throughout Europe before it finally made its way onto Showtime for American audiences to see. Once it was shown there, and the world didn't come to an end, it had a very limited U.S. release. For some people this DVD presentation will be the first opportunity to see this Adrian Lyne adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel. So the big question is, of course, should you?
The story is about a Professor, Humbert Humbert (Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune, The Man in the Iron Mask, Dead Ringers), who as a teenager fell in love with a same-aged girl who then suddenly died. When he goes to a boarding house in order to work on his writing he meets Lolita (Dominique Swain, Face/Off) and is reminded of his past adolescent romance. The boarding house is run by Lolita's mother, Charlotte Haze (Melanie Griffith, Body Double, Working Girl, Pacific Heights), and the two of them are having the normal relationship that mothers and teenage girls do, tumultuous with stormy arguments. Lolita is also testing her boundaries and desperately wanting to grow up. And once she begins to realize that her mother is romantically interested in Humbert she begins to play at flirting with him and this feeds the fire for his growing obsession with her. Up to this point the female characters are believable, where they go next can only be called a male fantasy...
As the story continues Lolita begins to very seriously and physically flirt with Humbert right under her mother's nose. This deliberate behavior implies that the daughter really hates her mother and that the mother is so stupid that she can't see her daughter competing sexually for Humbert's affections. Both of these assumptions need alot more fleshing out in order to be believable, like what happened in the past to make these two really hate each other rather than just going through the normal teenage/parent thing? None of this is explained and the swing scene with Lolita and Humbert flirting in front of Charlotte, although cinematically well done, was simply unbelievable. Anyway, Humbert next marries Charlotte because she tells him about her feelings and asks that he either return her affections or leave. Humbert finds himself unable to leave Lolita so he complies with the request. After some time passes Charlotte notices that Humbert locks up, in a desk drawer, the diary that he commits his deepest thoughts in. She prys open the drawer and reads all about how Humbert hates her and desires her daughter. She writes Lolita (who is in summer camp at the time) a letter concerning the unhealthy relationship that Humbert describes that he's been having and as she's going to mail it, is hit and killed by a car. Again, writing a letter to your daughter about the affair she's having with your husband seems to be more than a little far fetched; one would rightly expect Charlotte to go to Lolita and discuss the situation in person. Now...all of this might be in the novel, but that doesn't make it any more believable and I'm confining this review to the material as presented on this DVD alone. From this point on the relationship between Humbert and Lolita is explored in full. Humbert's obsession grows and Lolita's desire to be in control of the relationship grows too. And while Humbert can't control his obsession he does a pretty good job of presenting himself to the outside world as Lolita's guardian -- which, of course, conflicts with Lolita's desire to run things. All in all, it's pretty sad...
However, as sad as it all is, I must say that the actors made it fascinating at times to watch. Jeremy Irons is a virtuoso at making us sympathize with the most deeply disturbed of characters. He also can make any of his actions seem reasonable given his circumstances. For example, he can make it seem an everyday occurrence to have a torrid affair with the girl that his son is about to marry (Damage) or make us believe that he thinks that he's had a child with a man pretending to be a woman (M. Butterfly). Not only do we buy his actions, but we find ourselves liking him as we watch him go about doing these things; and his Humbert is no exception. You find yourself trying to forget that Lolita is 14 years old and begin to see it as some sad love story. And since Lolita presents herself as a girl desperately trying to be a grown-up it makes our job a little easier. (It's also easier to believe that Lolita cares for Humbert as there aren't any distracting young teenage boys around to pull us back to reality.) I would like to also add (without spoiling the story too much) that Frank Langella puts in a realistic and interesting performance as well as Clare Quilty. The illusion is complete and we buy into the path that the story pulls us down as long as we don't think about it too much.
The picture is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The transfer is about average for what we would expect from anamorphic material (which by the way is very good). The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and was adequate for the material being presented. However, the thing that will set this disc apart from just about any other disc that you can currently pick up is the extras. Not only are there many extras, but some are ones that I've never seen before. There is a trailer for the film, one for Twice Upon A Yesterday, information on the cast and director, commentary by Adrian Lyne, eight never-before-seen scenes, screen tests (this is footage from a casting session of them working through a scene and then the scene as we see it in the film -- thoroughly fascinating), the script (complete with scribbles), and a Featurette with the Director that again was very well done.
I've already mentioned my only objection with this film in that I don't think that the female characters are fleshed out very well and because of that their actions seem unbelievable to me. I also mentioned that this is somewhat overcome by the strong acting of the male leads. This story is told from the male perspective and if you can buy into that, the logic of the women's actions becomes secondary.
If you aren't offended by a story where a middle-aged man has a relationship with a young teenager then this is one to pick up. Fans of Jeremy Irons will also want to own this one as he again proves that his acting ability can overcome just about any storyline obstacle put in front of him. Those interested won't be disappointed in this DVD presentation and will be happy to add it to their collection.
The film and the DVD presentation are totally acquitted.
Review content copyright © 1999 Margo Reasner; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 137 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Cast and Crew Bios
* Commentary with Director Adrian Lyne
* "On the Set" Special
* Never-before-seen Footage