It has been a long time since I have seen a movie that provoked in me so many heavy sighs, stern looks, and headache-inducing eye rolls. Let me preface this review by making it abundantly clear that it doesn’t take too much for me to at least mildly enjoy a film—or if nothing else, find one or two aspects that I really like. Maybe it has exceptional lighting, or maybe the leading man is particularly attractive (here’s looking at you, If I Stay)—literally one well-constructed shot is enough for me to feel decent towards a movie.
Maybe you can tell where this review is heading. Effie Gray is easily one of the more difficult movies to get through. It depicts the real-life controversial relationship and marriage of Euphemia (Effie) Gray and art critic John Ruskin in the 1800s. The marriage was devoid of any joy or true love, and was never consummated, which led to their eventual annulment. Effie then went on to marry Ruskin’s young protégé, painter John Everett Millais. Dakota Fanning stars as Effie, and gives an entirely flat performance with plenty of wide-eyed, sad looks bearing no nuance or depth. Greg Wise is no help with an even greater one-note performance as Ruskin.
Unlike other period pieces that may lack a certain substance, or have a misguided sense of adaptation, they are able to make up for it with stunning scenery and photography, like Wuthering Heights (2011). Effie Gray, unfortunately, fails there as well. There are a few seemingly promising segments, notably when Millais is completing his portrait of Ruskin with a waterfall backdrop, but the film’s focus seems to be more on the lackluster presentation of a fairly interesting story than cinematography, or anything else really. I recommend you stock up on batteries on the off chance this ever makes its way onto your T.V. and your remote dies. Don’t risk it.
Effie Gray opens today in Philly area theaters.