Donna Sandstrom

Donna Sandstrom
Seattle, Washington, USA
September 10
Born in Brooklyn, raised in L.A. Studied at U.C. Santa Cruz, waitressed in San Francisco, found my way to Seattle in the early 80s. Career in high tech (Aldus/Adobe) until 2007 when I left to do The Whale Trail. Writing on Open Salon since May 2008. Go Obama!


Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 2, 2010 6:35PM

Bright Star, Dim Oscar

Rate: 12 Flag


Best Costume Design. Really, Academy? That’s it? As a good online friend would say, Pffft.

The most overlooked movie of the year, by far, is Bright Star. From the opening shot—an extreme closeup of a needle pulling through fabric—you know you are in the hands of a cinematic master. This intimate look at an everyday act makes it a wondrous thing, as if we have never quite seen it before.

Jane Campion, who wrote as well as directed, has created an incandescent and utterly satisfying story of young love—romantic, and tragic, and true.

Its title taken from his poem of the same name, Bright Star tells the story of the poet John Keats and his neighbor, Fanny Brawne. It follows their relationship from the time of their first meeting, through and after his death.

It is a relationship that develops naturally and believably; each coming into their own as they awaken to each other, and the sensual joys of the world around them.

Their relationship is complicated by his poverty—he’s not seen as a suitable match for Fanny—and by the jealousness of his best friend, who resents her intrusion into their bachelor lives.

Time and circumstance bring their critics around. Even her mother and the doubting friend yield to the understanding that this is not just a bad case of puppy love, but a heavy dose of the real thing.

Abbie Cornish, who plays Fanny Brawne, gives a flawless performance as a young girl awakening to herself, and to love. Ben Wishaw plays Keats with just the right amount of passion and angst—acutely sensitive, but never cloying.

Can you watch this and not be reminded of your own first love, when the world was lit up and new? No, you cannot. Like a great poem itself, the movie delivers us that world again.

If God is in the details, the details are in this film: the wind coming in through the open window in Fanny’s room; her hands as she touches the wall between them; the new coat she sews when she sees his old one, threadbare.

When the inevitable happens, her breakdown is almost unbearable.

In contrast, Up in the Air was a confused, bleak mess of a movie, whose characters and plot points played like cartoons. It was written by a young Hollywood screenwriter who seems to have stumbled across the big themes of our time, but didn’t have a clue what to do with them. The fact that it’s up for Best Picture, and Bright Star isn’t…I’m losing hope for Hollywood. Again.


More on Bright Star:

Stephanie Zacherek’s review on Salon, here:

 John Keats info here:

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I'd like to see this movie. Thanks for the heads up!
Do see it, Steve - let me know what you think! There were a few scenes that I really wanted just to hit pause on, and stare at for a long, long time. Like Ang Lee, she has the gift of making scenes that are poems in themselves...
You know the question is, would Tansy like it?
I think she would! It's not exactly a mood-lifter ;) But Fanny is stubborn, smart, and not afraid to go her own way --Tansy's kind of girl, I'd imagine. And it has the bonus of being true. Fanny never married after Keats died ::sigh::
I'm hoping to finally see it this week! I'm really looking forward to it. Thanks for the review.
Silkstone - will be really interested to hear what you think of it. It disappeared here way too fast....thanks for stopping by!
Call me out of touch -- this is the first I've heard of Bright Star. Thanks for the tip!

Just had to write in after seeing your great review of Bright Star. I too thought it was robbed, but knew it had very little chance of getting noticed because so few had seen it (it was barely a blip in the theatres).

Your observations were so spot on ... I had such similar reactions when I saw the film. Two scenes which stood out for me (the first of which I too wanted to pause and replay over and over in my mind):

1) When Fanny and Keats are out in the field with her younger sister, and they play a sweet silly game of "statues" with her. Every time she looks back at them they suddenly stand frozen in whatever position they're in, and she giggles, smiles shyly and continues walking. The blossoming love between them is so palpable, the giddy joy ... I smiled, tears pricking in spite of myself seeing that scene, and wishing I could climb into the screen and play that game right alongside them.

2) The heartwrenching scene when Fanny discovers Keats has died. God, I can still recall it ... her mother takes her by the stairs and both of them face each other, Fanny heaving with heavy, uncontrollable sobs and her mother holding her face on either side anxiously trying to get her to breathe and slowly calm down, yet never negating her need to cry and pour all her anguish out. Beautifully done scene, really ... the mother finally understanding the immense, timeless love her daughter and Keats always had for each other (I thought Kerry Fox was amazing as the mother too).

I will confess ... I actually had to run out of the theatre to the washroom and bawl my eyes out, the movie affected me that deeply, that unexpectedly. Thank God it was at an independent theatre, nearly empty ;o)

Jane Campion should've received a nomination for her superbly understated yet emotionally effective direction of Bright Star. Abbie Cornish also deserved a nomination ... instead 3 of Up In the Air's stars get nominations?!

This year's nominations are pretty pathetic and disillusioning I have to say. If you're going for 10 Best Pic nominations, then at least include Bright Star and Star Trek, geez. A Serious Man, seriously?
Hadn't heard of this. Thanks for the tip. Campion is special.
Biblios, I’d never call you out of touch…but go see the movie!

Brian – someone else saw it! ;) Glad you liked it too….

Spot on, Jane…when will they wise up to how much of an audience there actually is for movies like this, provided people can find them…(And thank you for the Pfft ;)

Scherezade – thanks for stopping by, and glad you agree. I remember those scenes well, and had a similar reaction to them. I think she’s made a masterpiece…though I have to disagree with you about A Serious Man. Big Colin Firth fan here ;)

jimmy - thanks for reading. It is amazing how quickly this movie disappeared. As a writer, especially, I think you would really like it...
From the Oscar's website:

Up to five nominations will be made in most categories, with balloting for these nominations restricted to members of the Academy branch concerned; only actors, for instance, determine the nominees in the acting categories. Nominations for awards in the Foreign Language Film category are made by a large screening group composed of members from all branches. Best Picture nominations and final winners in most categories are determined by vote of the entire membership.

So, if the nominees suck, it's because those in Hollywood are getting stupider and stupider. As JK said, Hollywood is run by middle aged boys who are promoting and putting forward their ilk, thus ruining the industry.

By contrast, the BAFTAs have nominated Bright Star for Best Cinematography.
Donna - A Serious Man is the one by the Coen Brothers, NOT the Colin Firth film (which is on my must-see list, he's one of my faves too). Firth was in A Single Man (I got the 2 titles confused too at first ;o)

Speaking of which, I hear Julianne Moore's performance in that was also snubbed.
ttfn - good to know about the BAFTA, thanks, The cinematography was superb.

Scheherezade - d'oh! Thanks for the correction. I had gotten them completely confused. Now I am outraged all over again! ;)
I just saw that film. LOVED it. I generally think the Oscars are a crock. They hype the already hyped.
reluctant muse - thanks for stopping by. Interesting that the few of us who've seen this movie, loved it! Sometimes the Oscars get it right, but this year they seem twice as wrong ;)
I've been wanting to see this ever since I heard about it. Thank you for a wonderful review. As for what gets a nod for an Academy Award, I used to attend and report on that event and it's a popularity/who's got the most money to promote contest pure and simple. I only watch it for the clothes.
I will be seeing this. I am with you about "Up in the Air" - I could name five other films I preferred to that one...not one performance or scene or landscape stood out. It was commercial mush.

Beautifully written Donna - I look forward to watching this.
Hi Emma – will love to hear what you think about it. And would also love to hear some Oscar stories! With Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin hosting this year, it’s bound to be funny at least…

Cindy Ross! If you loved the Piano I am sure you will like this….just as stunning, much less traumatizing ;)

Sparking – glad you agree about Up in the Air. It baffles me, how much people are raving about it. The commercials promise one movie, and you get a whole other…Bright Star as a good antidote!
i am so unaware when it comes to movies, i never know whats new out there and dont follow the awards shows or any of that. i never thought that i was missing anything much. this made me wonder and now i want to see this movie. thanks for that!
Thanks for this great review, Donna. Beautifully written and well said about Up In The Air in contrast. Although a Clooney fan (not just because of his charm but for his offscreen work in the world), I was very disappointed in that movie. Bright Star may not be everyone's favorite movie but it was stunning. I think this reflects that Hollywood is still a good ol' boys' club in many ways.