The Souvenir

I’ve never had an experience quite like the one I had when I watched writer and director Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir. I watched the film with an audience who scoffed, checked their Apple Watches constantly during its sizeable runtime, whispered negative sentiments, and said phrases like “Out of all of the films that could have been made, why did it have to be this one?”

I thought we were all in agreement with this movie, and then I go online to find out that critics are heralding it as being a bold, beautifully pro-feminist film about a woman’s struggle to navigate the creation of art while experiencing a romance heading down the course of devastation. I say this as a heterosexual male who probably should keep his mouth shut, but aside from the fact that the film is written, directed, and stars a female, I don’t see this film as the resounding feminist statement a lot of my fellow critics are seeing it as. To me, the film is boring, lifeless, too dreary for its own good, and has really annoying quirks and habits that just irritate me.

The love interest, Anthony (played by Tom Burke), is an insufferably catty and arrogant asshole with a heroin addiction that talks down to the film’s protagonist Julie (played by Tilda Swinton’s daughter Honor Swinton Byrne). He invalidates her opinions constantly, makes her question herself, steals from her and gets defensive when she confronts him, and he is basically the poster boy for the concept of gas lighting. Every time the two appeared on screen I struggled to find any spark of chemistry, they were both just painfully boring and their dialogue was pretentious and whispered. I’d rather die than hang out with people like that for more than an hour.

“He invalidates her opinions constantly, makes her question herself, steals from her…”

The film has an annoyingly noticeable habit of thrusting its audience into the middle of a conversation with little to no frame of reference. It was a rarity to see a conversation that started organically. I’m sure this was a style choice, but sometimes an idea can be drawn from one to many times, and it gets repetitive and grating. The film would cut to a part featuring a bunch of student filmmakers talking about something, and you’d expend valuable brain energy trying to fill in gaps only for it to have no proper effect on the plot. These sequences did not introduce any main characters or interesting side players, it was just a thing the film did, and it bugged me.

The choice of color is a very grey and muted palette that would have worked if the film’s story had more of darkness to it. Shots linger on the scenery and décor a little too long for my taste. I get it, we have a character in Julie that wants to tell a story about the down and outs, but she lives an extravagantly posh life full of espressos and weekend trips to Paris or whatever, haha, funny joke. We get more people talking down to Julie as she aspires to be a filmmaker dominated by a male presence, and I see the meta-ness as a write this review.

But I’m genuinely happy people enjoyed Joanna Hogg’s film even though I did not. It seems like it’s gaining an audience and I can respect that. This film was not my cup of tea, but you know what? That’s perfectly fine. Not everything has to be made to appease me. I’m sure this film is a very personal and autobiographical project for Hogg, but I don’t identify with the story told here, and I’m not fond of the way it’s told either.

“I totally see Honor Swinton Byrne being a megastar in the making…”

Honor Swinton Byrne is wonderful in the film, but I wish she stood up for herself a bit more and showed more strength. I’m guessing that’s tough when you find yourself loving a “charming” heroin addict, but I would have loved to see more proactivity on her part. Despite the questionable graininess and dreary color choices, the film is competently shot and almost has a documentary type feel to it. Tilda Swinton has a few great scenes in the film, but I feel like she’s basically wasted on the role she’d been given. I couldn’t stand Tom Burke’s smug portrayal of Anthony, and I couldn’t understand the attraction one would have towards someone so up their own ass.

The film speeds towards a predictable conclusion you can see coming from miles away, and when things finally happen the film just kind of flings itself off of a cliff and end with little-to-no fanfare. I saw it with an audience who was visibly bored out of their wits, so maybe there’s another critic/general audience divide we’ve been starting to see recently? Maybe there’s something I’m not getting out of the experience based on my own experiences where I can’t suspend my suspension of disbelief and learn to love characters that I have nothing in common with?

All I know is that The Souvenir needed more Richard Ayoade, I love that dude and he makes a memorable but way too short cameo. I totally see Honor Swinton Byrne being a megastar in the making, but aside from a few interesting ideas and performances, this film was a big dud for me I wouldn’t know anyone I’d recommend it to.

The Souvenir (2019) Written and directed by Joanna Hogg. Starring Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade, Jack McMullen, Frankie Wilson, Jake Phillips Head, Jaygann Ayeh. The Souvenir screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

4.5 out of 10

13 responses to “The Souvenir

  1. “I’m genuinely happy people enjoyed Joanna Hogg’s film even though I did not. It seems like it’s gaining an audience and I can respect that. This film was not my cup of tea, but you know what? That’s perfectly fine. Not everything has to be made to appease me.”

    I doubt your qualifying statement would be enough to appease Brie Larson, but respect for swimming against the current and speaking your mind.

  2. After suffering through 2 hours of this lame tale, I totally agree with this review. AO Scott’s opinions have ruined too many movies for me. How do I find more of your reviews?

  3. agreed and searched for another who despised the pace, the pretentious style of intimacy used plus the whispered dialogue made me so irritated! Thx !

  4. Anthony, you nailed it. I’m a filmmaker myself and I get tired of when so called critics rant and rave about a film and when I see it I’m highly disappointed. 96 on Rotten Tomatoes – are you KIDDING me? I go to the movies to be entertained like most people. Not to try to figure out what some artsy filmmaker is trying to say in some unimaginative, boring, egotistical attempt at showing the difficulty of their life. There’s so many worthy stories and directors out there looking for funding but Scorcese gets this made!? Yo, Marty, if you want to E.P. a film that’s entertaining and will make money, give me a call.

  5. I agree with so much of what you say. We left 1/2 way through — after she apologized to him for being pissed because he stole from her — I just couldn’t take it anymore. If it hadn’t been so painfully slow and choppy, I might have hung in there to see how it turned out (I found your review when hunting to see if I could find out how it ended. I guess I was interested enough to wonder what the hell happened.) Can’t seem to find a spoiler (care to help?) … but I’m so glad to see there’s a rumbling of people saying “what the fuck?” about the Rotten Tomatoes score. 😉

  6. I actually sat thru the whole film as if it had been a form of punishment by mummy for being naughty………
    Honestly these high brow film critics are so obsequious and scared shitless to just say it as it is. The rave reviews are so unwarranted.
    So here goes…….. Ladies and Gentlemen “The Souvenir” is a piece of pretentious crap promoted by Tilda Swinton to push her very drab daughter.
    Sorry. I found her, the kid, to be a second rate Keira Knightley.,,,,,,,, minus any sex appeal…….. but with that same whiney pouting British tweed and cashmere pretense that one finds in an Agatha Christie play.
    The Director Joanna Hogg in my opinion, has succeeded in creating a pile of steaming horse manure, ala Brando’s classic text in “Last Tango in Paris”
    For her to have the nerve to mention Powell/ Pressburger is a cinematic sin,,,,,,,,
    Joanna Hogg cannot concentrate. She flies from one theme, and set piece to another, and has zero imagination.
    She ain’t Michael Powell,,,,,,,, even if she donned red heels………….
    The film takes no risks, breaks no ground, and please NO there are hints of a sequel………… Grrrrrr,,,,,,,,,,, Set the dogs on Joanna Hogg please !!!!!
    I’ve never taken heroin before but after the film, if they were selling heroin next to the popcorn, I’d have tried it.
    My advice to Joanna Hogg…….. Open up a café in Chelsea, and accept checks as payment.
    My advice to Honor Swinton Byrne,,,,,,,,,, Be the waitress in the same café, but please, don’t try to follow mummy (Tilda) into the spotlight.
    You simply have not got that spark, no matter how much you may want it.
    But alas, we may see her try, and try, just like the daughter of Meryl Streep…….until she too realized that it was just not gonna happen.

  7. After reading Bench’s review, I find it hard to determine what warranted even 4.5/10. I personally gave it a zero and pretty much agree with the content of the review — and most of the replies as well. The Souvenir was the most boring film I’ve seen in years. I got a free ticket, so I can’t get my money back, but I’d sure like my two hours back.

  8. I already lived thru this story . But I was smart enough to kick that stupid junkie out before he destroyed my life … he only destroyed my heart .

  9. Thought this was a complete mess–uninteresting, needlessly confusing, aimless, frustrating, empty, forgettable.

  10. Thank you to the writer and commenters for acting like the wise a courageous boy in “The Emperor’s Clothes”. All of you are pearls in a sea of idiotic pretense praising this dull heap of nonsense.

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