MY LIFE SO FAR
Review by Michael Jacobson
Colin Firth, Rosemary Harris, Irene Jacobs, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio,
Director: Hugh Hudson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: January 25, 2000
My Life So Far begins
when a three year old kid named Fraser, in protest of his grandmother making him
take a nap on a beautiful summer day, crawls out of the window of his family’s
Scottish castle, and heads precariously toward the attic, several stories up,
with no fear. I liked him
immediately. The attic seemed like
a good place to go, because his father (Firth) had always told him the devil
lurked there. “To this day,” he
mentions in the narration, “I’m still afraid of the word ‘lurked’”.
The remainder of the movie takes place during a summer
seven years later, and is a story told without a lot of plot, but with such
terrific, charming characters and a great sense of insight into the magic of
childhood innocence, where everything around seemed like a wonder to be marveled
or an adventure to be experienced. It’s
kind of a modern period piece, taking place in the 1920’s, but in a setting
where time seems to have almost stood still.
The old Scottish castle is a historical marvel, obviously centuries old,
and still housing a large family. There
is nothing but calm, serenity, and scenic beauty as far as the eye can see.
But the film also boasts a higher energy level than many period movies.
It maintains a good pace without faltering, and most definitely never
If Fraser’s world is a paradise, and indeed, he even
tells his father that heaven must be like it, so that dying would not seem like
dying at all, then one of the central themes of the film is temptation in
paradise. Here is a place where all
is good and harmonious, until Fraser’s eccentric uncle (McDowell) brings home
a new fiancée, a beautiful French cellist named Heloise (Jacob) who is less
than half his age. She is the
embodiment of sweetness, so if you want to compare this tale to the story of
Eden, she could not be considered the serpent, but rather, the apple. She is no more to blame for the behavior she inspires in both
Fraser and his dad than was the fruit to blame for being attractive and
In a strange way, she almost instantly creates a rivalry
between father and son, despite the fact that the father is married, the son is
just a child, and she’s engaged, anyway.
Fraser loves her not merely because she’s a beauty, but because she
doesn’t treat him like a little kid. When
he talks, she listens. This
doesn’t sit well with his father, who instantly insists that he stop being a
pest. The problem is, naturally,
that a soon-to-be aunt can have an innocent relationship with her new nephew,
where they laugh, play, and share moments like friends. It can’t quite exist in the same way with his married
father. The fact that his
relationship with the uncle is a bit strained anyway proves further fodder for
complications. And it should be
noted that the father is a good man—he’s no lecher.
He’s the kind of charming character so caught up in his own world that
he spends his energies inventing an airplane, despite the fact that it has
already been invented and in use for some time.
He wasn’t expecting a passion like this to awaken within him, and in some ways, he’s more lost in what to do about it
than his son.
In the meantime, Fraser’s newfound curiosity sends him at
long last into the forbidden attic, where he finds no devil, but a treasure
trove of adult-themed books, paintings, and manuals that belonged to his
grandfather. And young Fraser is
more than ready to begin his education. He
finds a passage on prostitution in one of the books, for example.
“I read it three times,” he remarks.
“It was one of the most interesting things I ever read.”
Later on, in one of the most laugh-inducing scenes of the year, he sort
of reveals at an inopportune moment that despite his reading, he still doesn’t
quite grasp the nature of what prostitution is.
Then again, maybe he understands a little too
well. Your call.
It’s wonderful to see a film like this, than can explore
the subject of a young boy’s newly discovered sexual curiosity, and present it
in a way that keeps it sweet, innocent, and tasteful. After all, it is a rite of passage that we’ve all had to go
through at one point in our youths. This
picture comes the closest to getting it right.
At least for me, it was the most reminiscent of my own experiences, as
much as I’d like to believe it was closer to American
Pie. The final shot of the movie is one that’s likely to
make you chuckle out loud, then continue smiling as it takes you back to a time
in your own life when you both eagerly anticipated and feared the inevitable
passage into adulthood at the same time.
This is another quality anamorphic transfer from the Disney studios. As usual, the picture offers enormous clarity and sharpness, making excellent use of color and detail even in deep focus. You can see a bookshelf in the background, but it’s not just a piece of hazy scenery. You can clearly see each and every book spine, sharply rendered and separate from the others. The color scheme is wide and beautiful, with natural looking tones, gorgeous lighting, and no evidence of bleeding or compression to be found. The only complaint is the surprising amount of dirt and nicks on the print—surprising because of how new the film is. It’s not a problem, and certainly not a detraction from the overall beauty of the transfer, but it is noticeable, and as such, I can’t in good conscience give this image a full 4 star rating.
The 5.1 soundtrack, though not particularly busy, is one of
the best rendered I’ve heard from a period film, thanks to a dynamic,
symphonic score by Howard Blake, that includes bits of Beethoven.
Right from the opening credits, it almost sounds like you’re listening
to an orchestral concert, thanks to the spread of the music across all
channels. It certainly heightened the overall enjoyment of viewing the
film. And thankfully, Malcolm McDowell never pops on screen to rave
about “lovely, lovely Ludwig Van”. ;-)