When doctor Jerry Lovell (Liam Neeson, Oscar - nominee for "Schindler's List") discovers a young woman living alone in the backwoods of North Carolina, he is intrigued by her erratic behavior and unique pattern of speech. ... more »Together with a psychologist (Natasha Richardson), Lovell determines to pierce Nell's private world and protect her from the courts - and a life of scientific study. In a race against time and a system bent on shattering her spirit, he finds that the woman whose way of life he has sought to protect, has transformed his own forever.« less
Robert D. (GrayElephantClub) from PARMA, OH Reviewed on 8/11/2013...
I really liked this film, I'm a fan of Jodie Foster and I think she played this character wonderfully. I give it 4 stars.
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Foster's most challenging and impressive performance
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 06/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While Hollywood is filled with movie stars, it can boast of only a scant few bona fide actresses. Jodie Foster, the consummate professional, is the cream of that small crop, and I respect no other actor or actress on earth as much as I respect her. Nell is a testament to her unlimited talent as well as her unmatched commitment to what she does. The character of Nell is a role most actresses would never consider taking; it's a far too difficult challenge to meet for a film that holds little promise to bring in money hand over fist. For Jodie Foster, though, what matters is the story to be told, not the glamour or the projected box office receipts. She gives an absolutely amazing performance in this film, one that has deserved far more attention than it has received; as I write this, there is not even a DVD version of the film available. If Nell is mentioned at all, it is almost always in reference to Jodie's Foster nudity in the film, and I would like to say straight out that her nudity is very tastefully done, important if not absolutely necessary for the story, and in no way provocative. Nell is a poignant, emotional drama that saddens as well as inspires you; it is the kind of tearjerker in which your tears of empathy and concern are accented by a smile and sense of heartwarming joy. The story is set deep in the wilderness of western North Carolina, where an old woman has lived for years all by herself. People always thought she lived alone, at least, until she died and the local doctor discovered a pitiful woman-child hiding inside the shack, the only home she had ever known. Nell's mother had suffered a stroke many years earlier and spoke with a pronounced speech impediment; as a result, Nell speaks a tongue that is almost completely foreign to both the local doctor and the psychiatric professional he calls in from Charlotte. Dr. Lovell (Liam Neeson) becomes a guardian angel of sorts to Nell, fighting the courts and the mental health professionals to keep Nell in her native environment as opposed to being stuck in some institution where she will be treated as a lab subject. He gets three months to work with Nell himself, and his potential foe in the form of psychologist Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson) becomes his ally in time, as they both work with Nell to learn her unique language and prepare her for a life completely unlike that which she has always known. In her own special way, Nell helps the two doctors as much as they help her, yet their ability to protect her from a dire future of lonely clinical existence remains in doubt up until the very end. Neeson and Richardson are wonderful in their roles, but Jodie Foster is simply amazing. She had to learn a completely new, invented language as well as adopt a wide range of meaningful facial and body expressions and unique mannerisms in order to portray this "wild child" as a very real, very human individual. Nell is easily one of Foster's most impressive performances, and how she did not win an Oscar for this role is beyond me. It should also be noted that Foster produced as well as starred in this unforgettable film. The scenery, I might add in closing, is also spectacular. Filmed largely in the Nantahala National Forest in Graham County, North Carolina, a location just west of my own home, Nell is a beautiful sight to behold in more ways than one. Hollywood needs more powerful, moving films such as this."
Warm and magical
absent_minded_prof | Massachusetts | 05/13/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In "Nell," Jodie Foster wows us, as usual, with a deeply felt, passionate performance. She is Nell, the "wild child" daughter of a backwoods aphasic hermit woman, who raised her all alone with no human contact. Nell's speech is all her own -- it is a striking combination of a private language she had once shared with her deceased identical twin sister, and an imitation of her mother's speech. Her mother, as I mentioned earlier, had aphasia, which includes major speech processing problems. Nell's speech was the basis for the title of the play upon which this film was based -- "Idioglossia." (I believe, for anyone out there who's into things like this, that the correct term would have been "idiolect," as the term for a language spoken by only one person.) Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson bring constant love and warmth to Nell, and to the film, as medical/social-work professionals who attempt to break through to Nell by trying to learn her language. In the background lurk The Media, and The Scientific Establishment, both of which threaten at any moment to swoop in and make Nell's life miserable. The film builds to a heartrending and passionate, albeit rather unrealistic, courtroom self-defence speech by Nell, in which she calls the precepts of modern civilization itself into question.Liam Neeson's performance is described by one of the editorial reviewers on this page as being "at his teddy bear best." I think that sounds slightly emasculating -- he put more positive, warm energy into this film than many actors project in their entire careers. Show some appreciation! Come on!Anyone who enjoys this film should also be told about "Wild Child," a Francois Truffaut film that deals, through decidedly less rose-colored glasses, with a true story that was very similar to this one. Another film that has certain parallel resonances, in the sense of a "freakish" individual seeking a chance to be themself in the face of major obstacles coming from the scientific establishment, is "Charlie," starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom.I thought about giving this movie four stars, only because it puts Nell in the rather unrealistic position of delivering a profound courtroom speech. I decided to go with five, however, because the basic energy of the movie is so terrific. Absolutely worth checking out."
Some reviewers missed the point.
Michael Joseph | Los Angeles | 08/24/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an outstanding piece of work for all cast members involved, and deserves no less than five stars for that alone.As to the story, some reviewers have complained about Ms. Foster's nudity in the film, seeing it as unecessary. It is, actually, vital to the story in that it shows her to be an unashamed child of nature, unfettered by current social mores.Other reviewers have complained that the story is unrealistic, since it doesn't show her chopping wood, or gathering food. I would ask what, exactly, that footage would have added to the storyline. Any movie assumes certain functions are performed, such as eating, drinking, etc. Otherwise, all movies would be about twelve hours long, as we watched the characters, eat, bathe, use the toilet, etc.The point of the movie is that Nell is reflective of humanity's loss of connection with Nature. Once we were VERY connected to Nature, but have civilised ourselves away from that connection, but Nell has not been. Through the love and caring of the two psychologists, she is made aware of modern society, and HUMAN Nature. Thus, she is able to communicate to the more "civilised" people in the film what they have been ignoring their whole lives. This is why, at the end of the film, so many people are gathered together, just to be with her. We were designed to co-exist with Nature, not fight it, and Nell is a bridge to our lost knowledge.The movie also points out that, just because you don't understand something, or someone, it doesn't mean that they, or it, have no value."
Deeply moving ...
Mary Chrapliwy | NJ, USA | 08/05/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the story of Nell, a child of rape, raised out in the wilderness by her mother. Hidden away from the world, she is raised by a mother who has had several strokes and is aphasic (can't speak well). As a result of her isolation, she learns a form of English that sounds like gibberish.
When the elderly woman dies, Nell is left alone in the wilderness. She is terrified when people come to the house and she is found. She is deemed a "Wild Child". Enter Liam Neeson as the local visiting doctor and Natasha Richardson as a research psychologist that the doctor contacts. They study Nell closely and they both have different goals for her as the story unfolds.
To say much more would most certainly ruin the movie ...
This movie was compelling, deeply moving, and finally deeply satisfying. It will linger in your mind for days and days after viewing it. This movie is a keeper and may become a classic in the years to come. EXCELLENT."
Intriguing story with a truly great performance (Foster)
Mary Chrapliwy | 12/28/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The main thing I want to say is that this film contains one of the greatest, most haunting and truly memorable acting performances I have seen on film, and anyone interested in great acting should see it just for that reason.The story is also a lot more sophisticated than most. It is based on a play or story by the same person who wrote the screenplay for Shadowlands (which was also a beautiful and haunting movie, although very different from this). I believe the title of the original story was "Idioglossia," which conveys something of the fundamental idea. Idioglossia refers to the condition of speaking a "private language." Philosophers such as Wittgenstein have debated whether it is even possible to have a completely private language, since a language is designed to communicate, i.e. to share meaning with others, while a private language would defeat that intention. However, it is known that identical twins do sometimes create semi-private languages which allow them to communicate with each other, to the exclusion of all other human beings. In addition, when people grow up in very unusual circumstances, this may affect their speaking in ways that cause them to be unintelligible to others and even to be perceived as crazy and incompetent. NELL deals with these issues in a context that calls into question some of the premises of law, "mental health" and modern psychological research. The plot is contrived and simplistic in some ways. The penultimate scene in the courtroom requires some suspension of disbelief, although I found that it was both powerfully acted and beautifully written -- if one was willing to take it on its own terms.The very last scene, five years after the main action of the story, has a line that profoundly ties everything together. Observing Nell evidently thriving in her own way (and the very last line indicates subtly that Nell now can speak normal English), Paula remarks, "To think that I was going to change her!" and the Sheriff's wife -- who seems to have been cured of her chronic depression as a result of interacting with Nell -- replies, "But you did! Didn't you know?...You were the first -- the first one who needed her!" This notion that personal transformation occurs out of the opportunity to contribute is something that goes way beyond the other more intellectual issues in the film.I should also mention that the scenery in the film -- the mountains of western North Carolina -- is stunningly beautiful, and the performances by Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson are very pleasant, even though they are completely overshadowed by the brilliance of Jodie Foster."