Projections - Movie Reviews

Nell

This film features Jodie Foster as Nell, a young woman who lives the first thirty years of her life in a remote cabin in the isolated beauty of North Carolina's Smoky Mountains.  Comparisons of Nell to this year's earlier blockbuster portraying a somewhat similar character, Forrest Gump, will inevitably arise.  While I sang Gump's praises, I now sing Nell's praises with an even stronger fervor.

The two films are dissimilar in many respects. Gump was born with limited intelligence and, through the strength and encouragement of his mother, lives to experience the fullness of life.  Nell is born with above average intelligence yet, because of the fears and limitations of her mother, lives the first thirty years of her life apart from the world and its challenges.  Gump was verbose - uttering endless adages which are now featured in a book of "Gumpisms" available at your local bookstore.  Unless Nell's unique language becomes commonplace, we will be spared a similar commercialization of her wisdom.

Based on a play Idioglossia by Mark Handley, the central character of Nell captivated Producer Renee Missel when she first saw the play in 1989.  As she says, "I see Nell as a soul catcher.  She reconnects people with the disowned aspects of their personalities."  It is Nell's inability to communicate in words that allows her to, paradoxically, communicate with others in a richer, deeper way,  The story challenges us to explore what we mean when we deem someone "accomplished" or "having reached their potential."

The title role of Nell is acted superbly by Jodie Foster who also co-produced the film with Missel.  "I loved this story," says Foster.  "There is something so essentially pure and authentic about Nell, a quality most people have lost.  I know I have, and I like to choose characters from whom I can learn."  Foster is a pleasure to watch as she is totally immersed in her unique character.  She has succeeded in not only capturing a timid, recluse who is often overcome by fear, but also in speaking a complex, non-existent language and in creating the body language which authenticated her character.

Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson (now married to one and other) play the roles of Drs. Jerome Lovell and Paula Olson - a medical doctor and psychologist respectively.  Each perceive Nell in distinctly different ways.  To the soul-searching Dr. Lovell, the interest is personal - he is attracted to Nell's initial detachment from others and the fact that she is living her life on her own terms.  To the driven psychologist, Dr. Olson, Nell offers a stimulating research project which promises to further her career.  Both actors give wonderful performances, particularly Neeson who effectively conveys to the audience the depth of Nell's effect on his character.  He is visibly stirred by her spontaneity and natural sensuality.

Another actor worthy of praise is Robin Mullin, as Mary Peterson, the young wife of the local police officer.  Her role as the deeply disturbed woman who suffers from fits of despair was particularly striking.  In her sadness Mary forms an immediate, authentic and positive rapport with Nell -- pointing out that it is the recognition and expression of emotion, not mere words, that allows us to touch what is deepest in each other.

 
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