Saturday, August 1, 2009

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

One of my favorites movies of all-time, featuring a brilliant cast, a great script, and an insane amount of venom and poison.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are George and Martha, a middle aged married couple who spend their days insulting each other, insulting others, and engaging in various flights of fancy. George is a history professor at a college where Martha's father is the president. One night, after a part welcoming a new instructor, the couple have the new teacher, Nick (George Segal) and his wife, Honey (Sandy Dennis) over for a nightcap. What follows is a descent into the twisted relationship between George and Martha and the cruel games they play with others and themselves.

The acting in the film is phenomenal. Elizabeth Taylor (who at the time was too young to play a middle aged woman) gained a significant amount of weight to play a character whom she inhabits with great zeal and nastiness. Martha is loud, obnoxious, rude, nasty, and is willing to do whatever she can to break her husband's spirit, even if they happen to be entertaining guests at the time. But Taylor never does it to a point where it becomes unbearable to watch, instead, she fuses Martha with a great bit of humor that allows for several funny moments in the film, even though she happens to be digging into her husband.

Richard Burton is great here as well, playing a man who hasn't amounted to much in life, who speaks in an odd, roundabout manner, possibly because he seems to constantly drift in and out of some sort of daydream. While he tries to go toe-to-toe with Martha, he comes across as much weaker, usually letting her dig into him over and over. Burton gives George as great deal of weariness and sadness that never becomes too overbearing.

George Segall, unfortunately, seems to have the least to work with. His character, Nick, comes across as just a normal guy who happens to be stuck with a pair of old bitter people. But, this is probably intentional, because he has to serve as the main reaction to the anger and venom we see unleashed between the two, and they become a reminder of what he and his wife may eventually turn into one day.

Last but not least is Sandy Duncan as Honey. Duncan was the second Oscar winner for this film (Taylor also won Best Actress) and it's totally deserved. Honey is someone who wants to be the perfect housewife, so she deals with the craziness of the night by laughing it off, and by taking a drink. And another, and another, and another, until she's dancing around the room. Duncan has to make the more significant transition in the film, going from a seemingly happy housewife to a sobbing, drunk mess who discovers a few things about her marriage she never wanted to hear and she plays it off perfectly.

The script is insanely good, able to be both layered and entertaining. George and Martha's bickering originally starts as funny, only to descend into nastiness and anger, it also contains a lot of subtext about what is and isn't true about what George and Martha say about themselves. It's just fantastic.

I cannot recommend this movie enough, it's easily of on my top movies ever, and for those who don't mind "movies where they just talk" with a very small cast (only 4 characters), you're in for a brilliant movie.

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