Biopics about Important Men ironically tend to be Very Mediocre. So the fact that Toronto opening night film “Creation,” a Charles Darwin drama directed by Jon Amiel (who once helmed the original “The Singing Detective” but lately has turned out the likes of “The Core”) premiered to roundly indifferent reviews is no great surprise. What is a surprise is the fake controversy the film’s producer is trying to drum up to get attention.
Jeremy Thomas, clearly no fool, took to the UK’s Telegraph to complain that the film’s been sold everywhere but the U.S., because, of course, of the evangelical Christians. Thomas never says outright that distributors have expressed interest but shied away because they fear controversy; he just baldly states that the movie can’t get American distribution “because of what it’s about.” “This is what we’re up against,” he says with the resignation of the unjustly martyred. “It is unbelievable to us that this is still a really hot potato in America.”
Then again, as blogger/author John Scalzi points out, it’s not like there are any financial reasons for “Creation” to be a hot property. Paul Bettany, who plays the lead, isn’t a major star (though he definitely should be) and the plot is not a scintillating one: “A quiet story about the difficult relationship between an increasingly agnostic 19th Century British scientist and his increasingly devout wife, thrown into sharp relief by the death of their beloved 10-year-old daughter is not exactly the sort of film that’s going to draw in a huge winter holiday crowd, regardless of whether that scientist happens to be Darwin or not.”
Scalzi goes one better, calling out Thomas’ real motivation as being “flummoxed that such an obvious bit of Oscar-trollery such as this film has been to date widely ignored by the people he assumed would fall over themselves to have such a thing.” “See the controversial film about Darwin that almost didn’t show in the US, aren’t we brave in bringing it to you!” is his proposed press kit for whichever distributor eventually bites.
There’s smugness and cynicism draped all over this whole enterprise, conscious or not. Just because “On The Origin of the Species” is celebrating its 150th anniversary doesn’t mean a biopic is mandatory, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the filmmakers are picking up where Darwin left off and spreading the light. And if the film’s not actually any good, watching it just becomes an exercise in self-congratulation for showing up. I smell a major case of a mediocre film wrapping itself in the cloth of a righteous cause (something just as obnoxious when it’s done by the other side), hoping to gain points by association.
Or maybe it’s just annoying when a condescending British person sighs in exasperation about how unsophisticated the American backwaters are for not embracing his movie.
[Photo: Monkey, Paul Bettany in “Creation,” HanWay Films, 2009]