Moll Flanders

Tucson Weekly

DIRECTED BY: Pen Densham

REVIEWED: 06-20-96

I KNEW Moll Flanders was trouble when that adorable sprite, Moll's little daughter, popped onto the screen. Something bad is about to happen, I thought. Something sinister. No, I knew it was trouble before that, during the credits which declared that the movie was "based on a character created by Daniel Defoe." Not based on the classic novel by Defoe, but on the character from the novel. The other Moll Flanders, the one from the novel, didn't have a beloved daughter. She had numerous children, all of whom she abandoned.

The next sign of doom was the incessant "heavenly" music on the soundtrack. This is a very bad, very ominous thing in any movie. Heavenly music is evil and manipulative and should only be used in horror movies during dismemberment scenes; not, as in Moll Flanders, during scenes of "young" girls confessing in convent school.

As for the young girls, Robyn Wright, who plays Moll herself, is a lovely woman who has not been a teenager for quite a while. Watching her try to portray a naive lass who hasn't been beyond the convent walls wasn't as painful as the heavenly music, but it was extremely unsettling.

Once Moll escapes from the convent, spurred by her own unbreakable spirit, the next unforgivable aspect of this film reveals itself--the stifling, overripe period atmosphere. I guess it's the 18th century? Do I care? There are extras slinking around mottled with pox and cows swinging from pulleys above the market square. Yes, real, live, airborne cows; not as impressive as the ones in Twister, but flying cows, nonetheless.

Then, actually, there was a decent portion in the middle where Moll goes (rather nonsensically, but whatever) from being an aspiring nun to being a prostitute. (I'm just doing this chronologically). This part was kind of intriguing. Stockard Channing does a fine job of portraying the evil house Madame, and it's always a lot of fun to watch the innocent get corrupted. Moll's unbreakable spirit actually sort of breaks here, and the poor unfortunate foundling, daughter of a convicted thief, slinks into the gutter. She takes to drink. Poor lass.

This respite is actually a trick, though, to keep the audience from walking out. Once lulled by a brief interesting section, we are captives, ready to be subjected to a triple whammy of badness: bad plot, bad dialogue and bad art.

The bad art comes courtesy of Moll's new boyfriend, a painter who hires her from the brothel to pose nude because she's the cheapest girl they've got. Eventually he becomes entranced by Moll's unbreakable spirit and falls in love with her. All the while, he's painting ugly, wretched oil paintings of Robyn Wright, who herself is quite lovely, and saying ridiculous things like "the child in me yearns to create a Parthenon or a Sistine Chapel!" It's unclear whether he's supposed to be a bad artist or if the producers of the movie accidentally hired a lousy artist to do the portraits. The paintings, though, really stink.

As for the bad's hard to describe. At certain points in the movie Moll Flanders I had the sensation that someone was making it up as it went along. It bears only a superficial resemblance to the novel you read in freshman English. There's no sense of dramatic tension or planning. Near the end of the movie everything starts to conveniently happen at once--Moll has an unlucky encounter with a thief, then runs into her evil Madame; her house burns down, then Morgan Freeman is subjected to a random racial slur--all in the space of an afternoon. There is also a boat trip in there somewhere. I wish my life were that exciting.

The bad dialogue though, really takes the cake. When Moll and her boyfriend do it for the first time, she comments (in voice-over), "I'd had sex with many men, but this was the first time I made love." Please. Even soap opera writers wouldn't touch that one. Or this one: Aprés sex, Moll looks out the window and comments (in voice over), "I always thought I had to be rich to own the stars!" Maybe not rich, but a little originality wouldn't kill her.

My favorite, or least favorite line, I don't know the difference anymore, came near the end of the movie. Good things have happened to Moll--I don't want to spoil it--and she explains her joy (in voice over), like this: "We dance like sparrows around the flame of each other."

That's right: "We dance like sparrows around the flame of each other." Then came the best part of the movie: The end.

--Stacey Richter

Capsule Reviews
Moll Flanders

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