Bobby Underwood | Manly NSW, Australia | 10/09/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Meryl Streep gives a heartbreaking performance in this deeply affecting and brilliant film about a woman trapped forever in the past. Susan Traherne might appear on paper to be a selfish and unlikable woman, but Streep somehow manages to let the audience see her inner anguish and restlessness, and her quiet desperation at not being able to recapture the feeling of living life to its fullest; something she experienced during WWII as a Resistance fighter in France. It is one of the most exquisite performances ever captured on film.
Fred Schepisi crafted this Edward R. Pressman produced RKO film from a play by David Hare. There is a fine cast which lend support to Meryl Streep, including a winning turn from Tracey Ullman as Susan's wild and irreverent friend, Alice Park. Beautifully shot in several countries, the viewer feels as if they too are trapped in a moment in time. It is a poignant and wistfull moment, however, and in the end, the ache that runs through this story is fully driven home by a flashback of a joyful Susan shortly after the war ended.
When the film opens, Susan is waiting in the dark with other Resistance fighters when a paratrooper they had not been expecting lands in their area. Sam Neill is Lazar, who has landed far from his intended location. Once the weapons are lowered and he is identified, Susan will escort him to the nearby village. Lazar saves her life from a group of Germans on night patrol, and Susan's vulnerability in that moment bonds the two together in a tender manner brought about by war.
Susan and Lazar will share a brief but intense intimacy only those who have shared some danger with another can understand. When he gets the message to leave due to impending danger, he will leave behind a momento of the time they shared that she will carry with her for life; a reminder of a life with meaning she longs to return to. The Germans murder a man in the streets they believe to be Lazar, while he escapes by bicycle. Susan watches as her life disappears with a touch of the cap; the only gesture he dare show.
Susan after the war is restless and strong willed. She wants to change everything but does not know how. She is unable to remain ensconced in a job or situation for any length of time and longs for that hour or two during the Resistance when she saw bravery, and the best in people. It is much more than nostalgia, but a paralyzing ache that will cause her to always move on. Streep lets us see into Susan's soul, and rather than being unsympathetic because of her character's outward actions, we fall in love with her from the inside out and want to save her.
She meets a diplomat named Raymond Brock (Charles Dance) who shows kindness to her in a sensitive situation. They have a romance that will eventually come to an end, or so it would seem, when she can not leave the past in France behind and move forward with her life. The one constant during all this turmoil is the spirited Alice (Tracey Ullman). She is a free soul and lives her life as she pleases, which is often to her detriment.
Susan's anguish begins to worsen, and once she makes a proposition to a bloke named Mick, her world begins to unravel. Sting is very good as Mick, who is in way over his head with Susan and her friend Alice. Just over his head is where the bullets will land when Susan finally has a mental breakdown. It is Raymond who will return to pick up the pieces. When the ambassador, portrayed with stoic flair by John Gielgud, decides to resign, Raymond will get a post in Egypt, where Susan is far from Europe and her memories.
She is also far from herself, as her friend Alice will discover when she comes to visit. The languid pace and sandy colors of Egypt would seem to agree with Susan. She is lovely and sedate, but it is because she is, in fact, sedated. Susan is a picture of serenity, but her spirit is not in evidence. It is only when Alice speaks to Raymond in her defence that she shows a glimmer of her former self.
The seed has been planted, and when the ambassador dies, Susan decides to return to England for the funeral, against her husband's wishes. It is in England she will remain, forcing Raymond to abandon his post, effectively ruining his career. Susan does not want him to suffer because of her, and has a talk with his superior with disastrous results. It will force a confrontation between she and Raymond in which she will leave her home. It is a poignant scene as she walks down the street, a bit unsteady. We know she will never return.
Lazar tracks her down from a BBC broadcast about the Resistance, and they have a reunion which proves to be too late. France is too far away to reach after so much damage has been done. We will see a joyful and hopeful Susan in a golden field in France after the war, and our hearts will break at a life which never happened.
Magnificent is not a strong enough word for Meryl Streep's performance in "Plenty." It is one of the most memorable you will ever see in film. A beautiful refrain played by the London Symphony Orchestra haunts this film, and each time I hear it still, I see Meryl Streep in that field in France, with a world of promise in front of her. This is a movie, and a performance, no film lover should miss.
Underrated film from underrated director Schepisi
John Grabowski | USA | 01/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Yes, it was fairly well-reviewed when it came out, but it's more than merely a "good" film. I thought it was good the first time I saw it. By the third time I watched it I thought it was great and by the fifth viewing I was awestruck. Plenty is rich, subtle, low key and--for many (not me)--hard to warm up to, because none of the characters is especially lovable, at least not for very long. This isn't a film where you "root" for anyone. It's more of a film where you watch, observe, live and breathe in the times, amazed that, even though you've never lived in this period, after this movie you feel as though you have.
In the excellent director's interview that comes with this version of the DVD (but not the other, less expensive one, so be sure to fork out the extra bucks and get this issue) Fred Schepisi explains that this is a film about memory. What he modestly doesn't say is he conveys the theme of memory superbly well through his expert direction, with music and lighting and set cues that make us feel as though we are living life with Susan, and that, oddly, we have lived it along with her before. We feel her nostalgia for France when she does. We feel her claustrophobia in her suburban London existence. Plenty is a film of rich textures, one we can almost smell and taste as we watch it.
Its themes are rich and multi-faceted. Plenty is about idealism and disillusionment, about hypocracy and naivete, about promises never fulfilled, or that may be unfulfillable. The heroic "good" war, the post-war rise of diplomacy to replace confrontation, the hypocracy of suburban middle-class morality, the belief that the good guys can do anything, so long as they do it in a civil manner, these are just some of the themes of Plenty. And watching it, I was somehow reminded strongly of our present times in many ways. We (Americans) are in a rampant consumer culture, drenched in middle-class morality as we rationalize everything from war with Iraq to plundering oil for our SUVs. We feel we can get away with questionable actions of foreign policy if we go about it diplomatically, because we're "the good guys." (John Gielgud's speech to Charles Dance as he explains his disenchantment over Suez, where he says he would have gone along with whatever the government cooked up so long as they would have been honest to him about it, keeps ringing in my ears.) Most of us don't stop to examine our lives, and the fact that at one point Susan goes into advertising ("I don't expect it to stretch me, but maybe it'll be good fun.") made me howl. The film also deals with class distinctions and rising through the social classes beautifully. Susan goes from working girl to upwardly mobile woman to diplomat's wealthy wife. Her best pal Alice does all this as well, basically following on Susan's coattails in the beginning, but although she starts out rather immature she eventually grows beyond Susan, though she probably would not realize that herself. It's odd that in a novel, movie or play the secondary character grows beyond the hero(ine), but that is just one twist that makes this work fascinating.
It all happens rather subtly. There is no pontificating, no "morals," no dissolves and title cards that say things like "Eight years later." No one explains the changes that happen to these characters slowly, over two decades, and they do not seem to notice many of them themselves. Schepisi counts on the viewer to figure it all out. Maybe that's one reason the film has never done well, whether in the theaters, on the critics' lists, or on home video. Another is it's not a very "American" movie. Aside from the fact that it deals with Europe and its culture and history, of which most Americans are woefully ignorant, it does not have a single hero or heroine, a single point of view, and a feel-good ending, three essential ingredients for almost any American movie (at least of the last 25 years). As I often find myself saying when it comes to movies I truly love, I'm amazed this got made at all.
Streep plays the role of Susan very well (of course), but with perhaps just a bit more restaint and calculation than I would have liked. We never really see a slow build, an evolution, of her Susan, but instead flashes of sanity as she battles to live in a too-sedate and plastic world. More impressive are the other characters. Charles Dance is sympathetic (the only somewhat sympathetic character in the movie) as Susan's long-suffering husband Raymond, someone in love with her and yet destinted to never understand her. Tracey Ullman impressively holds her own in every scene with Streep as best friend Alice. And the eclectic casting of the supporting characters--John Gielgud, Ian McKellen, Sam Neill, Sting (!) and Burt Kwok (Kato in the Inspector Clouseau movies, who here has what may be the best line, "These 'Gyps need whipping!")--works brilliantly. Schepisi deserves credit for not turning this into a "mere" Masterpiece Theater costume drama, which could have easily happened if he'd just plundered the cast of BBC dramas for his actors.
Fred Schepisi is one of our more underrated directors. (I say "ours," even though he's from Australia.) And this may be his greatest film. I urge anyone who's curious, though, to watch it several times before making a judgment. As one of the reviewers below said, the film's greatness doesn't hit you the first time. If you give it time, though, it will eventually sweep you away. I just wish some of those critics would give it a few more spins in their DVD players, so that they'd *really* be impressed. (I guess for the record I should mention picture quality, sound, etc., all sharp, crisp, clear, blah blah blah. Widescreen 16x9 format, enhanced for supersized TVs, and all that.)"
One of Meryl Streep's finest performances and a really excel
Diego Sada Jr. | Monterrey, Mexico | 09/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Plenty is one of my all-time favourite films. I loved this movie.
I understand why many people did not like it, but I think they should have another look. Sure, it is not an easy movie to watch, and Meryl Streep's character is not the most pleasant woman in the world, but that is part of the point. "Plenty" is unabashedly unsentimental, and that is one of its greatest strengths.
Meryl Streep gives one of her best performances, and it's not only because of her flawless British accent. That is just the surface of Ms. Streep's complete, and absolutely brilliant transformation into a very complicated character. She is also sexier than she has ever been on screen up to that time. She looks simply beautiful!!
This film is about as performance-oriented as films get, and it is full of great performances -the entire cast is excellent!!
"Plenty" is a movie about how different life can turn out from the way we plan it. It is not supposed to be cheerful. It is gritty, gripping, and extremely powerful. It portrays the hardships of Resistance era France, and the harsh realities of Britain immediately after the Second World War; as well as the decadence that prosperity can bring, and the disappointments of life, and how the inability to deal with them can destroy a person's sanity.
Of particular note are Charles Dance, as Streep's husband, Sam Neil as her lover, Sting and Tracey Ullman in small but important supporting roles, and especially Sir John Gielgud, who effortlessly steals the few scenes he is in. In one of the movie's few comic moments, Mr. Gielgud corrects the wife of a Burmese diplomat just as he is leaving a dinner party on the nationality of a certain European film director. Just this scene makes the movie worth watching!
I have seen this movie described as an underrated tour-de-force. That is an extremely fitting description. I would add the word classic to that description. This is a film that challenges the viewer to sit through its grim depictions of what life can be like if we don't know how to deal with life not turning out like we want it to. Depicting different eras from the Second World War to the early to mid sixties, "Plenty" is a period piece with painstaking recreations and some incredible locations in England, France and Jordan.
If someone has not seen this movie, I urge them to buy it or rent it and watch it. For a long time, this film was not available in widescreen on home video. Now there is at least one widescreen DVD which restores the film to its stunning beauty and allows us to enjoy its excellent cinematography. To anyone who appreciates great acting, this film is a MUST SEE. No serious film collector should be without this great classic.
If someone has seen it but did not like it, I urge them to watch it again, and again.
I have seen this film at least 50 times, and I could easily watch it 50 times more."
"I've climbed the hill to have a better view"
Michael Walden | St. Louis MO USA | 07/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The above line precedes the more famous final line in the final scene of this film (and the play, too) but I think it's one of the more crucial lines in the text. Streep's character speaks it first in French, then again in English when she realizes that her cover is no longer necessary. The repetition gives the line its' weight. Why do I think the line is particularly important? I don't think too many audiences want to climb a hill or very much else when they sit for a film but it's that better view that rewards those willing to make the climb. "Plenty" is a climb, I won't deny that. It demands your attention and your intellect and it rewards accordingly. To those who gave it a bad review, I don't know whether to envy those people or to pity them. They've missed the point and that could be a good thing: they've never known this kind of despair. If they had, they would have recognized it. On the other hand, if they've never known such despair, have they ever known what it was to live so fully that such despair is possible? Streep's Susan is a paradox of sympathy and disgust, reflecting a life that once was almost impossibly heroic which then devolves into the most trivial existence imaginable. You can't love her but you can't easily dismiss her, either. This film takes you into a difficult place that most people don't want to climb to, better view or not. "Entertainment"? No. A waste of your time? Climb the hill and see for yourself."
Dark Troubling Movie About the Disillusion of Life
Thomas R. Dean | Morristown, New Jersey USA | 11/09/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an extraordinary movie. It is impossible to not deeply sympathize with, and yet also come to strongly dislike the character of Susan Traherne played by Meryl Streep. All of David Hare's plays (e.g., Racing Demons, Skylight, the recent Amy's View) and movies (e.g., Strapless, Wetherby) are concerned with the idealist who runs up against a not particularly sympathetic world as he, or more commonly she, ages and struggles against a self-doubt induced by the people and society around her. The character of Susan Traherne is the least openly "likeable" of these characters, yet in Streep's amazing performance is heartbreakingly sympathetic. It is so easy to weep when one sees the final flashback scene in which one is reminded of her certainties and hopes 15 years at the end of a World War. She just could not find a way to make herself or others happy, and in the gloom of the effort trashes the lives and surroundings around her. A very memorable movie."