Dir.: Agnieszka Holland
Writers: Scott Abbott, James Wong and Ira Levin
Stars: Zoe Saldana, Patrick J. Adams, Jason Isaacs and Carole Bouqet
I personally have no allegiance to Roman Polanski’s chiller originally penned by Ira Levin. I have seen it several times and it certainly more or less has earned it’s praises, but it’s not a film that gives me the heebee jeebies. Although I most certainly appreciate it’s style and unique approach, my nerves weren’t torn to shreds. You’d think though, what with me being female and biologically made to push a baby out of me it would provoke some sort of anxiety… it didn’t, besides, Satan would have to be pretty darn desperate if he wanted to put a baby in me, just sayin’. Truth be told though, the film had a very distinct visual aesthetic and a fascinating yet simple story at its core plus it had a definitive purpose in tone and narrative. It was a deliberate slow burn, a finely tuned wire that was constantly being wound around and around a ball of invisible tension. When the crucial moments came, the wire snapped back and whacked the viewer in the face, leaving a scar. It was effective and it had direction.
NBC’s feature event that had been divided up into four hours over two nights… not so much.
I wanted to enjoy this contemporary adaptation so much because at core, it had a lot of things going for it. Plus, as classic as Polanski’s movie is, stacked up against a modern audience, some of its social impact is lost- a lot of people who are not stuck in the Dark Ages won’t readily accept a young woman choosing strictly to be a housewife these days, at least not without a valid explanation. The general gist of the story remains the same, but Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse are a young couple who have moved to Paris- her being a professional dancer, he being a frustrated writer who is attempting to spend a year abroad in order to get into the groove of writing again. All of this would have been fairly straightforward were it not for the fact Rosemary had recently suffered a miscarriage and remains incredibly vulnerable despite her brave face. The Woodhouses shack up in a ritzy apartment building (with a dark, twisted past, ONOES!!!) where they befriend Roman Castevet (Jason Isaacs- who isn’t Satan, sorry ladies) and his wife Margaux (Carole Bouqet, still looking regally beautiful). It isn’t long before shitty things happen… really shitty things.
Before I lug into what made this show severely lacking, allow me to list some of the positives. After all, I don’t feel this show went out of its way to tick anybody off.
* The talent, in front of and behind the camera are for the most part strong. Holland has sculpted a respectable resume, some of her recent efforts being stints with “Treme”, “Europa, Europa” and “The Wire”. She understands the structure of making a television show and does a decent job of keeping ball rolling for the most part. Zoe Saldana does fine in the lead as Rosemary and much to my surprise, she understands the art of subtlety when it comes to her quieter, exposed moments. Arguably her best moments are when she is silently suffering over the loss of her miscarriage and when she becomes frenziedly certain that she is being played by those around her. This is certainly not her best role by a long shot and in five years time this film will only be remembered as something she did, nothing more. Same can be said for Patrick J. Adams as Guy. A credited SAG actor he does what he can with what he’s given but in truth, I didn’t feel like slapping him 20 times across the face like I did with John Cassavetes in the original. He never convinced me he was a desperate man who was willing to sacrifice his suffering wife’s happiness in order to achieve his own ends. Isaacs and Bouqet do well with their roles but their parts are only vaguely interesting based on their individual talents as actors with no help from the writing.
* The setting of Paris in truth does add an enchanting effect to the proceedings. It has a distinctly romantic yet Gothic look to it, perfectly suited to the tale being told here. Although part of what made the original film effective was the fact it took root in a place Rosemary was familiar with, the horror came from the fact it was taking place in where she felt safest- her home. Still, there is some splendid photography in this new rendition that it would be a crime to not mention it.
* Modernization. As mentioned before, audiences in 2014 have a very different set of values and beliefs compared to those in 1968. Characters had to switch, personalities needed to be updated and intelligences needed to be addressed. Let’s just say I wasn’t shaking my head at Saldana’s character because it wasn’t so easy to pull the wool over her eyes.
Aaaaand this is where the kudos generally end, unfortunately.
My main gripe with this entire exercise is how pointless it ultimately ended up being. The stakes, suspense and thrills never paid off in any substantial shape or form. When something unusual or supposedly eerie occurred, every moment felt cheap and rushed. It was almost as if the film was gingerly dipping its toe in a deep rain puddle only to pull away as if it were going to drown. I am all for making changes to a property in order to benefit the story and the characters, but character motivations were muddled, disorganised and vague. Mystery is great so long as there is a worthy, surprising pay-off but there was absolutely nothing insightful or clever. If I had to label the more fantastical events that happened, I would say they are more about shock and sensationalism rather than hard-earned suspense and narrative impact. Additional characters really are a non-factor, that is to say in the grand scheme of the story and their relationships with Rosemary and the other characters, they’re honestly little more than nothing. Although I love Bouqet and Isaacs, their (admittedly classier) Castevets do not leave nearly enough of a lasting impression. The only actor who manages to deliver fitfully is Saldana even though it’s certainly not a performance she will be remembered for as her career advances. The way I see her contribution here is more of a stepping stone than an accomplished result.
While this feature won’t besmirch the careers of everybody involved or harm their credibility in the long run, “Rosemary’s Baby” sadly descended in what is basically a well-filmed, fashionable schlockfest. It has its moments, but as a whole, it just doesn’t work the way it should have which is incredibly frustrating to me. I remember what one of my professors told me in reference to the core skills of nursing- in order to construct a building, it must first have a sturdy foundation before anything else can be added to it. Here, “Rosemary’s Baby” was concerned more about how impressive it looked rather than having strength and structure underneath it and it crumbles tragically as a result.