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SYLVIA

American poet Sylvia Plath married British poet Ted Hughes and, as the world well knows, they did not live happily ever after.

CAST: Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Michael Gambon, Blythe Danner, Jared Harris, Amira Casar, Andrew Havill, Eliza Wade, Lucy Davenport

DIRECTOR: Christine Jeffs

"The question that hovers over ‘Sylvia’ is not Why did the gifted poet Sylvia Plath kill herself? but Why would anyone want to make a movie about it? And who, apart from the cultists obsessed with her glamorous, doomed marriage to British poet Ted Hughes, would want to watch it?… It’s not the actors’ fault that ‘Sylvia’ is less a tragedy than a depressing case study: Paltrow digs deep to give us a thoroughly convincing (and not particularly likable) Plath, and, as Hughes, the saturnine Daniel Craig (who looks more like the young Jack Kerouac) smolders with the best of them. But the film’s claustrophobic, color-coordinated dourness yields little illumination, and as the surging violins accompany our heroine’s un-raveling mind, the movie comes queasily close to romanticizing suicide." --David Ansen, Newsweek

"Ms. Paltrow looks a lot like Plath and speaks with the right semi-Anglicized American preppy accent, but her performance goes well beyond mimicry. She has a vivid, passionate presence, even when her lively features have gone slack with depression and her bright blue eyes have glazed over… Mr. Craig, with his craggy, shadowed face, looks like a rangy, wounded bird of prey. His voice is a low growl, and his sexual magnetism, the trait that is the movie's main concern, is palpable... Sex and poetry are linked in this film as if by a high-tension, high-voltage wire, and while the connection may seem facile, it is also, with respect to these writers and their milieu, entirely plausible… Ms. Jeffs's understanding of Plath, like Ms. Paltrow's, is deep and sincere, and ultimately more intuitive than analytical. ‘Sylvia,’ rather than trying to explain Plath, wants to burrow into her personality without disturbing its mysteries." --A.O. Scott, The New York Times

"After questionable deviations into yuks-ville, Gwyneth Paltrow returns to serious drama with this carefully wrought but unremittingly cheerless biopic, in which her mannered performance never lets the audience forget that she's acting (and gunning for a second Oscar)...‘Sylvia’ -- New Zealand director Christine Jeffs' follow-up to her lyrical debut feature, ‘Rain’ -- is needlessly depressing, a bleak slog through the historical facts that focuses on Plath's fraught relationship with charismatic fellow poet Ted Hughes…this frigid and inaccessible period piece wears its glumness like a shroud." --Megan Lehmann, The New York Post

"Paltrow does this role exceptionally well, but it is underwritten. We have to take on faith that Sylvia has a great mind, as well as an independent spirit, because she is pathetically dependent on a narcissist whose primary talent seems to be for chasing skirts. Hughes is even less developed than Sylvia. Craig has a dark, sexual presence, but one has to wonder, with so much blood diverted to his nethers, how was he able to nourish his genius? So many questions, so few answers." --Jack Mathews, The New York Daily News

"It gathers up potentially hysterical material and lays it out in calm—the calmness not of squeamish good taste but of the eerily stunned behavior that comes of toiling under intolerable pressure…There are extravagant numbers of Paltrow-dissers out there, who take vicious exception to—who knows?—her seriousness, her breeding, her beauty, or her unfair amalgam of all three. To give her credit, she makes a valiant effort not to transform ‘Sylvia’ into a vanity project…This undramatic drama would be a tough call for any movie, and Paltrow does a fine job of sitting in company and sizzling like hot oil. There is a dinner in Devon, given for the poet David Wevill (Andrew Havill) and his wife, Assia (Amira Casar), which may be the least pleasant social occasion ever filmed…Having dreaded the prospect of ‘Sylvia,’ I admired it precisely because it refuses to play along with the mythologizing that has sprung up, and vulgarized, the lives of two poets. The film neither raises Plath up nor cuts her off at the knees." --Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

"Paltrow's performance in ‘Sylvia’ doesn't have Oscar-worthy depth, but it's a solid, sincere portrayal that captures enough sides of Plath's complex personality to enrich the movie, directed with impressive visual power by New Zealand filmmaker Christine Jeffs…As usual in movies about artists -- last year's dismaying‘Frida’ is a good example -- creativity is presented in ‘Sylvia’ as a result of pure emotions, not an intricate blend of strong feelings and hard, rigorous thought." --David Sterritt, The Christian Science Monitor

"Nobody expects a movie about Sylvia Plath to be a pleasant affair. But we could have hoped that ‘Sylvia’ might have buoyed its grimness with more variety and imagination…a perpetually overcast exploration of how Ted betrayed Sylvia and how Sylvia's depressions and jealousies doubtlessly drove him to it…Give it credit for being evenhanded enough to acknowledge that this was a union of two intolerable people, not just a victim and victimizer… ‘Sylvia’ is one straight, dreary plod toward annihilation." --Bob Strauss, The Los Angeles Daily News

"The biopic doesn't shed much light on the fragile and enigmatic writer whose myth has nearly obscured the real woman…key pieces of the Plath puzzle are undeveloped…Otherwise, the film is well-acted. Paltrow believably conveys Plath's emotional vulnerability and obsessive love for Hughes. And Craig, who resembles a young Richard Burton, projects a blend of brooding intensity and chilly emotional distance… Paltrow and Craig have a palpable chemistry…Sometimes it seems as if critical scenes and climactic moments were inexplicably edited…The movie also falters in depicting Plath as an artist. We don't learn what inspired her to pursue writing as an outlet for her emotional turmoil. The lead performances lift the film above melodrama, but they also expose the glaring holes in the screenplay." --Claudia Puig, USA Today

"Making a film about Sylvia Plath is a little like making ‘Titanic’ -- you know the ship's going down, you just don't know when. What happens beforehand has to be gripping, and Jeffs' film, despite its wonderfully seedy set design and darkness, simply isn't…Paltrow simply may lack the depth to make Plath's character as complex as it might have been…What we don't get is that sense of an epic bond that goes tragically bad and leads to Plath's celebrated suicide at age 30." --John Anderson, Newsday