2019, Movies

Lyrebird (2019, Dan Friedkin)

Do you ever watch a film with high production values and, from the opening scenes, you’re thinking, ‘this is is not going to be good’? Well, Lyrebird is such a movie. It’s the kind of movie you spend wondering if it’s the director’s first film (it is) because nothing works like it’s supposed to.

SPOILERS but you shouldn’t care.

Lyrebird mostly looks good. The sense of place is great and I’m told the costumes are very good. It’s a relatively pretty looking film and it looks like a lot of movie was spent to make it that way.

But everything else about it, including the most important things, doesn’t work. The direction is clunky. The pacing is totally off. And the script doesn’t make any sense.

Though I have seen thousands of movies, I am not sure I have quite the right work for what is wrong with the film’s direction and editing. The best I can come up with is “awkward”. The beats all feel off. The humour mostly doesn’t land – though it did land with much of the audience – because the timing is just slightly off. (Yes, this movie tries to be funny in addition to being extremely serious.) But the failure of the comic relief to work illuminates for me the problems with the rest of the film; the dramatic beats feel off to. It’s the way the shots are put together and the way the film is laid out but it’s also the script.

The script is just… Well, there are two problems with it.

The first problem is that it just doesn’t make much sense. The best example I can think of is that Joe’s wife worked for a Nazi as part of the resistance, but Joe “discovers” the existence of this Nazi when his colleague finds a photo in Han’s house. Of course he knew of his existence already in the reality of the film – his wife worked for him – but the film doesn’t present it that way at all. And there are numerous moments like this, where the characters learn things they already knew because the writers think this is how the audience should learn them. It’s just bizarre.

I try not to know much about films before I see them and I didn’t realize this film was about an art forger. It took forever for the film to reveal that’s what he was up to. They tried to hint it, but they didn’t do a very good job. (Or I was so distracted by the awkwardness of everything that I didn’t pay attention to the hints. But I noticed one.) Anyway, once the forgery was revealed, I finally became interested in the film. (Was this an hour in? 45 minutes?)

But then the trial happens. The trial is ridiculous. They try to make it look like a Dutch trial, but then American/English trial vernacular comes in – this film is in English – and you’re mystified but what they’re trying to do. Is this a Dutch trial? It feels like they are worried we wouldn’t recognize the trial without Americanisms. They don’t trust their audience.

But then the monologues start. And it doesn’t resemble any kind of real trial. And that just gets far more ridiculous when the verdict is announced. I won’t spoil it for you but, if you know anything at all about trials – in any country – the announcement of the verdict and what happens after is completely, utterly absurd. Even though it’s based on a true story, it really caused me to question the storytelling. We both eye-rolled.

I can see what they were trying to do here. They’re trying to show the moral journey of a man, from black and white to a more adult grey. But as Jenn points out, this is a really interesting story, and it’s far more interesting than some wannabe cop’s moral journey.

And this brings us to the second problem with the script, which is possibly the biggest problem with the movie, depending upon your point of view: much of this is completely, utterly made up. A quick read of wikipedia shows that they changed so much of this story. I have no problem with dramatic license. Change a few details. Conflate a few characters. But the degree to which they changed this story – for example, the trial is about the wrong crime! He was tried and convicted of a completely different crime in real life. Can you believe that? What were they thinking?

It turns out that this is a fascinating story. And I’d love to see a great or good movie about it. That is not this movie.


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