Michael Apted directs Jodie Foster, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson in this drama where a doctor and a language expert try to protect and communicate with a wild woman who has grown up in the woods with no English, technology or interactions with the world of men.
A film with its heart in the right place but a plot that is so compromised and rushed it ends up utterly laughable. Every breakthrough and victory feels unearned. You can detect a more sensitive, intelligent idea being panel beaten into a traditional Hollywood formula. A woman who doesn’t understand the concept of windows three minutes earlier knows the importance of making an eloquent courtroom speech (albeit in translated gibberish) about her right to be free moments later! That’s the worst example but not the only time the screenplay lazily makes a leap so we can get this unique tale to contain stock moments for the trailer and the Oscar ceremony. Was it notes from a studio? Star egos overwriting a more thought through draft of the script? Reshoots? Why are car chases and helicopter intrusions and the most unbelievable happy ending bolted and melded onto this? It is a serious, intelligent adult melodrama with no internal sense of logic and little practical reality. Foster does put full effort into her innocent enfant sauvage with a made-up language and autistic grip on reality. You do care and are convinced by her dedication to this slightly ridiculous creation. Of course you are, she’s a fantastic actress who has built up nothing but goodwill with the audience over decades of risky projects. Even she cannot elevate this cack handed material that judders through some pre-ordained motions inconsistently and unconvincingly. Nell’s biggest sin is we spend so little time in her world or with her she almost become an afterthought as Neeson and Richardson bicker and flirt and make schizophrenic decisions about her care. Their wooden experts steal centre stage from the title character. And bless them, neither have Foster’s talent, vulnerability or commitment.
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