Gwyneth Paltrow, once dubbed the “first lady” of Miramax Films, said some strange things Friday night about the movie company where she won an Oscar.
The occasion was the premiere of Paltrow’s new Focus/Universal feature, “Sylvia,” about the late famed poet Sylvia Plath. Paltrow, looking stunning in a black dress, had her blonde hair pulled into a long ponytail. She was accompanied by her mom, actress Blythe Danner, and boyfriend, Chris Martin of the rock group Coldplay.
Ironically, the small theater chosen for the event was the Tribeca Screening Room, just inside the Tribeca Film Center and co-owned by Miramax, which occupies much of the office space in the same building.
Paltrow came to prominence at Miramax with the movie “Emma,” won an Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love,” and has starred in several of their features including “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Sliding Doors,” “Bounce” and “The Pallbearer.” Insiders say she was paid a small fortune by the company last year to star in the ill-fated comedy “A View From the Top.” She’s currently filming the Broadway hit, “Proof,” for them in London.
But that didn’t stop her from knocking the company in a speech before the 60 invited guests.
“I just want to say that Focus Features is the best place in the world to make movies,” she declared while introducing the film. “They really care about the creative process. And I don’t care what [expletive] building we’re in.”
Paltrow also said that “Sylvia” was the best project she’d ever worked on. With that she said she had to leave for London and miss the after-party at Soho House to appear in front a press junket.
Her comments were not the only disruptive moment during the evening, though. In a kind of karmic message, the fire alarm in the screening room went off twice toward the end of the film just as Plath is preparing to end her life. This entailed not only an alarm sounding, but a strobe light that no one knew how to disable.
After the screening, I asked producer Alison Owen -- who is also working on “Proof” -- what Paltrow meant by her remarks. I thought perhaps Miramax had passed on “Sylvia” when it was in the development stage.
“You’ll have to ask her, won’t you?” replied the blonde, British producer. Unfortunately, Paltrow was whisking her way across the pond by then.
And what about “Sylvia?" It’s supposed to be about the relationship between ill-fated poet Plath and her husband, English poet Ted Hughes. Their tempestuous relationship has been well-chronicled. He was an abuser and a cheater. She was chronically depressed. She left him in 1962, after roughly six years of marriage, but wrote long passages in her diaries that “glorified” him, according to the diaries’ editor.
Plath, famous for writing "The Bell Jar," killed herself in February 1963. Hughes died of cancer in 1998.
All that said, I know absolutely nothing more about these two after enduring Christine Jeffs’ two-hour miseryfest on screen. Paltrow is an intelligent actress so her work is always above average. But there’s not much she can do with this rendering of Plath. The poet was surely no day at the beach, but in this film she is a sphinx, an unknowable enigma with no friends or family, no sense of humor, no redeeming features.
Why is she so depressed? It’s mentioned once that her life changed when her father died -- she was 9 years old -- but that is never pursued. Indeed, we never learn anything about Plath prior to her meeting Hughes, and even then their marriage, the publication of “The Bell Jar,” her mothering of two children -- it’s all lost in a fog.
(When Plath finally does sit down to tell some of her fears, it reminded me of a "Seinfeld" episode where George finally unloads all his darkest thoughts to Jerry. Seinfeld’s response: “I’ve been scared straight.”)
There are some nice supporting touches: Jared Harris as the couple’s friend, poet Al Alvarez; Danner as Plath’s mother; Michael Gambon as a neighbor. But they’re all thrown away. Of all the participants, I suppose Daniel Craig, who plays Hughes, comes off the worst. He mumbles his lines, is hard to understand and is completely unsympathetic.
And certainly the most hilarious miscalculation is the swelling, soaring orchestral music by the usually reliable Gabriel Yared. It’s not that the music is bad, it’s just totally wrong and much too loud.
There’s going to be a firestorm of criticism over this terrible, poorly executed movie. Three years ago Plath’s diaries were published, but the film seems to not reflect any understanding of her, her work, her life or the marriage to Hughes. And then there are the missed opportunities: When Plath met Hughes she bit him on the cheek, drawing blood. What a great scene that would have been! Sadly, like so much of the really good stuff about Plath and Hughes, it is missing from “Sylvia.”
Plath’s children, by the way, are protesting this film. Her daughter, Frieda, a poet, lodged a complaint last January in the British press about the whole project.
"I wrote a letter to them saying 'No, I don't want to collaborate,' and they kept coming back," she told the Sunday Times. "Why would I want to be involved in moments of my childhood which I never want to return to? I want nothing to do with this film. I will never, never in a million years, go to see it."
If I were Frieda Hughes, I’d stick to that plan.
Yes, that was Elijah Wood at a Saturday afternoon screening of "Kill Bill" on the Upper West Side. And yes, that was Elijah Wood applauding the trailer for "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King," in which he stars. And yes, that was Elijah Wood saying loudly in the theater, for fun: "That looks like it's gonna be great!" ... And that was Moby and Ronnie Spector, each performing at the Loser's Lounge last week at Fez. The next Loser's Lounge, for the Zombies ("Time of the Season") is scheduled for Nov. 7 and 8 ... And yes, Cyndi Lauper's two-night gig at Joe's Pub at the end of this month is sold out to the rafters. Lauper's just wrapped her first new album for Epic Records, produced by Russ Titelman, and it's said to be her best work ever.