Directed By Emma Holly Jones
Starring – Theo James, Zawe Ashton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
The Plot – When she fails to meet an item on his list of requirements for a bride, Julia Thistlewaite (Ashton) is jilted by London’s most eligible bachelor, Mr. Malcolm (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù). Feeling humiliated and determined to exact revenge, she convinces her friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) to play the role of his ideal match. Soon, Mr. Malcolm wonders whether he’s found the perfect woman or the perfect hoax.
Rated PG for some smoking and mild adult language
Period pieces are typically hit or miss for me, mainly because I find their method of storytelling to be slow and plodding towards dejecting me from the dramatic experience of the narrative. Thankfully, “Mr. Malcolm’s List” doesn’t have that problem, as it brings with it a rich vibrancy to production and bountiful personality that constantly kept me engaged throughout a dual narrative of romantic subplots. That personality goes a long way with enriching the experience, affording the audience the ability to look through the intentionally stuffy authenticity of the dialogue for the boldness in its characters that has you hanging onto every single one of their intriguing dynamics. The humor itself conveys subtlety in ways that naturally deliver in the heat of the engagement, valuing awkwardness and spontaneity as a means to an end that are delivered wonderfully from such an eloquently splendid ensemble, all the while capably setting the precedent in consistency in humor that never weathers, even in the thickness of its romantic tendencies. As for the production, the warmth and exuberance of the movie’s combination of intricate wardrobe and luxurious set designs prescribe a transformative experience for the viewer that affords us elegant escapism through the lens of Jones’ wonderfully luminescent presentation. While it’s obvious that these are characters with upper class privilege to their social constructs, it’s conveyed in manners that inspire an intoxicating flare to the movie’s substantial style, creating a three-dimensional versatility in design that simultaneously flows wonderfully with the background of the characters they surround. On those pivotal characters, I found the work from the entire ensemble to be anything from satisfactory to exceptional, but none more pivotal than that of Zawe Ashton, who puts on a theatrics clinic with some of the best facial acting that I’ve seen in sometime. She conveys so much meaning and nuance to the manifestations of emotions she continuously pulls from, and when combined with the air of her consistency for comedic timing, cements a big screen presence that I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of, especially for the devious nature of her character that often drove the conflict in spades towards its inevitable collision. While on the subject of that collective ensemble, I think another awesome movie is making all of the prominent and upper-class roles minority dominated, especially in a genre dominated by one-sided choice casting. It’s progressive filmmaking during the Victorian age that gives the film a unique perspective that we unfortunately rarely see in these kinds of movies, making the occasion unmistakable, but never in ways that lends itself towards distracting from the focus of the script.
Part of the fun of this screenplay is its refusal to pick a main arc, so instead we follow dual narratives throughout the engagement. Where that problem mounts, however, is in the lack of development consistently to the balance of those sides that makes both feel lukewarm in both chemistry and evolutionary arcs. This is especially the case for the titular character in question and his romantic interest, Selina, who are paired together without ever zeroing in on what makes their feelings legitimate with time, leading to a resolution that isn’t convincing nor devastating on the inevitable conflict that I’m guessing you can expect from seeing so many films and TV shows with a similar plot. This leads to the protagonist himself, Mr. Malcolm, who just might be not only my least favorite character of the film, but also one of my least favorite male leads in a film this year. This isn’t a discredit to Dirisu, who plays the character wonderfully with a chauvinistic quality that conveys everything wrong with his initial ideals, but rather the characterization of the character itself, which lacks the proper motivation to convey his eventual evolution. It’s a strange aspect of any script to be rooting for the girl who is setting up his eventual heartbreak, but considering the film begins with him abruptly and forcefully breaking her heart, you have no choice, and it creates a strange juxtaposition in the conflict of interests that the audience will inevitably find themselves in. Finally, while the film breaks convention within the depths of its casting and dual narrative, it can’t escape the same fate for predictability that has doomed the romantic comedy genre with redundancy. Even for the sake of soiling a happy ending, I would appreciate a fearless approach to the movie’s resolution. Unfortunately, this is a film that is too in love with a happy ending, even if it directly contradicts the actions of the characters in doing so.
While not everything on “Mr. Malcolm’s List” is checked off with unanimous efficiency, this is one romantic-comedy that values each of its hyphenated ingredients towards preserving something sweetly splendid for the occasion, all the while entertaining a diversely led ensemble that commands progressiveness over this Jane Austen adaptation with just enough charm to maintain your attention throughout.
My Grade: 7/10 or B