Petter Næss’s ‘Mozart and the Whale’ (2005)

10Feb07

Ronald Bass, who won an Oscar for his Rain Man screenplay, really likes autism. On the very self-assured commentary track that came with the Mozart and the Whale DVD, Bass explains that he thinks people with autism exhibit the emotions and awkwardness of social interactions that non-autistic people are so good at hiding. And he may have a point. However, do not expect this film to provide great insight into the human condition. In fact, don’t expect this film to provide any great insight into relationships, romance, and courtship either. Expect this film to provide some moderate entertainment and an interesting portrayal of people with Asberger’s.

Despite some strong acting from leads Radha Mitchell and Josh Hartnett and supporting character actors like John Carroll Lynch and Rusty Schwimmer, the script never manages to go anywhere and the film seems to move very slowly. Mitchell and Hartnett also fail to generate any real chemistry, limited perhaps by the nature of their characters. However, I must take pause to celebrate Hartnett’s excellent work. His portrayal of Donald is his finest acting that I have seen, comparable perhaps with Hugo in O. Hartnett changed his voice, physicality, even his presence for this role, but he never becomes too showy. The direction by Norweigan Petter Næss is actually quite good — Mozart and the Whale does not look like a typical American romantic comedy. The film was shot in Spokane, Washington, which provides a moody backdrop for this story about two emotionally charged characters. What does not work is the soundtrack and Deborah Lurie’s score, which are too literal and saccharine, causing the movie to dwell further on the script’s sentimentality.

Although I find the pace and plotting of the script very disappointing, I do recommend this film. Hartnett and Mitchell work very hard to create realistic and sympathetic portrayals of people with Asberger’s, offering audiences a glimpse into the struggles of people with this developmental condition.

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