It’s hard to know where to begin with this movie. To be sure, it’s a very pretty, well acted production; however, that doesn’t make up for the fact that I hated every minute of it. “Savage Grace” dresses like an epic, sweeping tragedy but is actually little more than a melodramatic soap opera that produces so many suds you could bathe in it. Based on a true story, the book version garnered awards, but the celluloid version is nothing short of cringe inducing.
Narrated by her son Tony, “Savage Grace” is the tale of Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore), a phenomenal beauty whose talent for cunning and desire to claw her way to the top of the aristocratic ladder rivals that of Scarlett O’Hara. Married to the heir of the Baekland Plastics family, she jockeys for social supremacy, often dragging her husband Brooks (Stephen Dillane) along kicking and screaming. Theirs is a marriage of opposites: hers a violent temper, his a cool indifference. Further undermining their already volatile union is an unshakable feeling of inferiority. Barbara married into a reputable family name and constantly overcompensates by putting on airs. Brooks, whose grandfather was a renowned inventor, has never lived up to his potential. Surrounded by writers and artists, the couple run into the problem of many wealthy people who haven’t had to earn their fortune– they have no great function, no great achievement of their own to point to (listen up, Paris Hilton). Tony Baekeland (Eddie Redmayne) becomes the inheritor of his parents’ neuroses, which is quite a lot of baggage. Tony, as the target of his mother’s manipulation and his father’s neglect, grows into a properly creepy young man.
If the film doesn’t sound too bad thus far, rest assured that it is. The disintegration of the family results in Mommy and Daddy’s affairs, theft of their son’s lovers, threesomes, and a case of incest so sick it would make Oedipus gouge his eyes out all over again. It is viscerally, painfully hard to watch. In its defense, I concede that the picture is quite pretty; the film spans continents and decades, providing lush scenery and beautiful costumes for them all. It’s also well acted, as Moore, Dillane, and Redmayne are all capable actors.
However, if I never again have to hear Tony Baekeland simper, “I love you, Mommy,” that will be perfectly alright with me.