Play It Again – Sophie’s Choice

Sophie's Choice

By Glenn Dunks
August 5, 2014

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. Hey, whatever. It fits!

When a film such as Alan J. Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice has become famous for one thing, it can be hard to visit 32 years later. And while Meryl Streep’s performance is largely worthy of its laurels – an Oscar winner and hailed one of the greatest performances of all time, yet I’d suggest not even her best work – the film around it is much harder to forgive. Beyond Streep, Sophie’s Choice is little more than a tediously assembled WWII drama of interminable length.

In 1947, a young man named Stingo (Peter MacNicol) arrives in New York to pursue his dreams of being a writer. In his Brooklyn boarding house he meets Sophie (Streep) and her lover, Nathan (Kevin Kline). Theirs is a relationship of tempestuous peaks and valleys, but the three soon become the best of friends. However, in a moment of weakness, Sophie decides to tell the young writer about her time at Auschwitz and the terrible choice she had to make one fateful night.

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Vaguely exploitative, and frequently filmed using crass, obvious imagery, Sophie’s Choice inspires only fleeting interest. Perhaps by pure virtue of its weighted drama, the WWII flashback scenes are infinitely more compelling than the love story that Pakula has chosen to make the focus of the narrative. So while Streep’s performance is captivating, albeit initially somewhat off-putting thanks to a glaringly obvious set of prosthetic teeth, the film is more concerned with the story of MacNicol’s writer. An audience proxy of the blandest vanilla variety, and a clear riff of The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway, Stingo simply isn’t a rich enough character to pivot the story around.

The music of legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch is divine, and the cinematography at least attempts interesting things as it switches to and from flashbacks. Sadly, spoiled by three decades of pop culture appropriation as well as the preceding two hours of lacklustre drama, the film’s most famous scene lacks much of the dramatic heft it likely had in 1982. What’s left to admire is Streep’s performance, and it is excellent. Everything else about Sophie’s Choice is inert.

2.5/5

Sophie’s Choice is available on Quickflix.

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