In her first re-view for 10YA, Sin de la Rosa remarks upon the utterly unremarkable, needlessly austere The Other Boleyn Girl and the obsessive pursuit of adulthood.
I was 17 when I first saw The Other Boleyn Girl. In theaters, which is totally bizarre to me now, as I only drag my old sack of meat and bones to the theater maybe three times a year. I went with my world-wise, sophisticated best friend Alyssa. Alyssa has always been the friend whose life circumstances forced her to act and be older than her actual years. As a teenager I trusted her judgement implicitly (though I’m sure I pretended otherwise). It was upon Alyssa’s suggestion that we see it, she had read the book it was based on. The movie promised to me was a Tudor Period epic with intricate costumes, soft lighting, and British accents. A sordid tale of intrigue and drama, of women navigating the dangerous world of Henry VIII’s court. Which, in Young Sin’s mind, all added up to equal “An Important Film.”
My teen years were filled with the obsessive pursuit of adulthood, an adulthood defined by the “important” and “refined.” I watched a lot of Turner Classic Movies with my father, pretended to love all the books we read in High School English, embarked on a much longer relationship with Radiohead than I ever wanted or needed. An obsession with leaving the follies of youth behind, discarding fluff in favor of the hard edges of worldly pursuits. Passing over things that made me happy in favor of things that made me think. And thus, 17-year-old me watching The Other Boleyn Girl, in a theater, with my best friend Alyssa.
Fast forward 10 years, coincidently to my 10th year of ACTUAL adulthood instead of the proto-adulthood I was trying on at 17. While rewatching this film, what struck me most was not its quality or importance; it’s that there is not one single remarkable aspect to note. The writing is subpar, the acting all over the place. ScarJo, as Mary Boleyn, has the charisma of recycled paper and a British accent to match, Intensely Handsome Eric Bana plays Henry VIII with the glassy eyed ferocity of a Chicago Bears fan looking at a corndog, and Natalie Portman’s Anne Boleyn gently gnaws through the scenery. It’s clear that Natalie also wanted this to be an “Important Film” and she plays Anne with a reckless abandon that I could have admired if I wasn’t experiencing so much secondhand embarrassment. She’s just, trying so goddamn hard! We get it! Anne is “complicated,” “ambitious,” “a strong female character.” Blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately, the end result of her clumsy handling is the dramatic arc that superficial and infantile. She comes off as a high school cheerleader losing the title of Prom Queen.
Suffice it to say, it was not an important film. In fact, I would argue it hovers between being an actively bad film and something much worse: a thoroughly mediocre film. It’s telling that in the 10 years between sitting in that theater and writing this reflection, I’ve thought about The Other Boleyn Girl zero times. Because The Other Boleyn Girl makes the same mistake I did, at 17: It takes itself too seriously. It wants so desperately to be taken seriously, to be a “serious drama,” but it has all the bones of a soft-lit romance. After all, the book it was based on is apparently a quintessential romance novel, which 17-year-old Sin didn’t realize at the time because she would have dismissed it. In the book, Mary gets swept up in the political machinations of King Henry VIII’s court, fends off the manipulations of both a truly sociopathic Henry and her conniving sister, but manages to find her happily-ever-after with a hunky second husband who loves her and raises her children. Guess what gets cut from the movie? That’s right, the entirely hunky second husband! It’s all court drama all the time!
You can sometimes see these romance origins peeking through, and it’s jarring. Intensely Handsome Eric Bana and ScarJo’s first sex scene is lit with 1000 tea candles and filmed with a Vaseline covered camera lens à la Outlander. But, by the end of the movie, Intensely Handsome Eric Bana has raped and murdered Anne, while leaving Mary alone and discarding their children. Classic sociopath behavior. It very strongly negates all the of sexiness of anything that comes earlier. What’s the point of making him all sexy if I can’t even fucking enjoy it? WHAT’S THE GODDAMN POINT?
The Other Boleyn Girl overemphasizes the importance of the story it tells, of the characters it follows, and favors keeping itself somber and austere instead of embracing the camp of the book it’s based on. It’s just another period piece in a sea of period pieces, chasing Oscar glory. It’s afraid of a truth that cannot be denied: This is supposed to be a fucking trashy romance. And thus, this fear to embrace the schlock, the trash, the Harlequin novel camp, is what dooms it. What we end up with is a bunch of dramatics floating around, untethered and unmoored from the characters who are experiencing them.
Rewatching it, I longed for the camp of a true era romance, a bodice ripper for lack of a better, non-rapey term. I longed for a movie both grounded in the emotional reality of its characters but unafraid of the natural ostentatiousness required of the genre; unafraid to appeal to the emotional desires of its audience instead of following the gritty, intellectual path. A vast departure from the reality 10 years ago. 17 year-old-trying-to-be-adult Sin would not have been sitting in a theater watching a true romance. She would have dismissed it as flighty and girly. She would have dismissed it as unimportant. But I’ve since had 10 years of adulthood to learn better. Sophistication is a scam. Buying into that system, that upholds the austere as the baseline for what’s important, prevents you from feeling what you truly feel and enjoying those actual feelings, from enjoying yourself. Especially the feelings that women are often told to tamper. It dismisses the feel-good romance paperbacks that line bookshelves and make fortunes, instead of treating them for what they really are: compelling stories that speak to the experience of being human, that are important in their own right.
My teenage years are finally far enough in the past that attempting to remember them is like deciphering the remnants of a dream an hour after waking up. Fuzzy gif-like images flow together out of context and out of time. I have the barest recollections of being in the theater with Alyssa. But I remember the feelings. It’s been a process for me, I’m only now starting to feel good about the things that make me feel good. I hope to feel good about more things 10 years down the line.