Thursday, June 09, 2011

Review: Chalet Girl

Chalet Girl
Directed by Phil Traill
Starring: Felicity Jones, Ed Westwick, Bill Nighy, Tamsin Egerton, Bill Bailey, Brooke Shields
Grade: D+


The term "a waste of good talent" is banded around a lot in the world of film criticism, but it's difficult to assess what constitutes squandering what's essentially at your disposal. It seems unlikely that, in twenty years time, Felicity Jones will look back on "Chalet Girl" as a lynchpin in her filmography, since its muted impact on the 2011 calendar will surely see Phil Traill's film become a supermarket clearance bin staple; and yet, Jones' entry into the realm of the featherweight romcom somehow feels like a proclamation that she's home. While she may have felt like the cheaper option to relative lookalike Gemma Arterton, the prolific Brit performer's loss is our gain; Jones gives a star-like performance in a dire, unintuitive film, clearly working up to -- what's perceived to be -- her upcoming breakthrough in Sundance hit, "Like Crazy."

Jones succeeds through her wise hesitancy to accentuate the sketchily dated class convergence in Tom Williams' scriptural familiarities: there are only so many overt displays of disconcerting token snobbery one can take before the social implications of girl-next-door Kim involving herself with public school Johnny (Westwick) begin to wane in interest. Kim's ex-skateboarding talents are glossed over almost as soon as they're revealed, as the early emphasis is placed on plugging her loser-status as a waitress in a dead-end fast food joint. When applying to become a 'Chalet Girl' in the busy season of an Austrian ski resort - a role requiring refinement, patience, and a pretty face - it couldn't be made more obvious that Kim lacks these qualities, even as Jones herself at least contradicts the last of those without appearing to try. 

That she can preserve Kim as an independent presence for vast periods of "Chalet Girl" is a feat in itself, given that there's such a preoccupation with neutralising the characters as romantic archetypes, existing only to serve the needs of an ambling story and grafting siren. Tamsin Egerton's Georgie inexplicably becomes the best friend overnight; while Kim's father (stand-up comic Bill Bailey in a rare film role) pops up with alarming regularity as a domestic nightmare designed to (once again) represent working class England as cosy squalor. "Chalet Girl" also recycles the notion that wealthy families prioritise fiscal sense over each other's happiness -- or are, at the very least (in Bill Nighy's case) ambivalent towards said happiness.  

And still, the worst part of Traill's film may not be that it fails to surround a flourishing actress with a licentious scribe, an alluring leading man, or an interesting network of characters; but that it never once appears to challenge what these characters stand for. Lack of ambition and/or originality isn't always the most destructive element of bad filmmaking, but when a narrative path is as age-old as the one "Chalet Girl" opts for, isn't there a necessity to make an effort with the setup? Whether it's the smattering of obnoxious socialites versus 2-D hippy-liberal snowboarders, the insistence that Kim's personal tragedy finds a place in her ultimate triumph, or Kim and Johnny's utter inability to see past the issue of currency, "Chalet Girl" is indelibly lazy towards developing thoughtful relationships within its mountain-top setting. 

"Chalet Girl" is without a real antagonist, instead content to make Westwick's suave Johnny an instigator of his own romantic troubles - a wallflower to the idea of actual conviction, difficult to care about as a romantic proponent. This inability is indicative of a film that doesn't even have a tagline to reel us in. Wasn't "Love On The Slopes" available? How about "Love Snows No Bounds"? While understated "Chalet Girl" is also underthought, and isn't eager enough to matter beyond your weekend DVD rental, your Wednesday night two-for-one, or - if you're lucky - your 40-minute walkout? Flick can and will hack it on bigger plains than this icy mound of tacky confection, so go elsewhere for your fix of eternal happiness. Say "Sweet dreams, my Chalet ex" to this sorry Alps affair, and do it with a clear conscience.

3 comments:

Alex in Movieland said...

OT:

still no rating for Out of Africa?? :) come on.

Cal said...

Done! Just for you ;-)

I hope you're happy, but I can't remember now if you like it or not. I found it terribly paced, and thought Meryl was dodgy. High two-stars for her probably, but that voice-over is shockingly bad.

Alex in Movieland said...

woooooow. I remember liking it, as in 8 or 9 liking it, which is a lot for me. :D

I just remember loving the mood, and finding it very much enjoyable (Meryl included). Maybe it's just my type of film, I dunno.

anyway, it's no Color Purple (my alltime Top 10). And I've seen it only once, a couple of years ago.