'The King's Speech' is overrated

It seems little can be done to stop the wave ushering The King's Speech to an Oscar for Best Picture, but I'm still going to try.


First, though, some praise: The film is well-made and unabashedly aimed at adults, featuring terrific performances, especially from Colin Firth.

Unfortunately, the film is also unabashedly aiming for an Academy Awards sweep despite being thoroughly undeserving.

Firth plays the Duke of York (later King George VI), who employs a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to help overcome a debilitating stammer in time to deliver a speech rallying his empire against the Nazi threat.

The King's Speech is a minor film with modest ambitions. It aims mostly to please -- a low-set bar it fails to clear.

Many have compared it with The Queen, another film about the British royal family, which was up for Best Picture in 2007. But I think it has more in common with Doubt (2008) in that both are essentially plays masquerading as movies, saved only by phenomenal performances.

Doubt earned four acting nominations -- one more than The King's Speech -- including nods for unmatched talents Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Their brilliance and interplay helped turn an interesting story into a fascinating, intelligent gem.

That's what makes Doubt's exclusion from the Best Picture pool in 2009 and the inevitable coronation this year of The King's Speech so puzzling -- Doubt was a far better achievement.

I tried to fit in praise earlier for the respect The King's Speech showed its audience. Its lack of constant explanations kept the film from bogging down.

Also, though more compelling stories loomed on the periphery, such as King Edward VIII's abdication of the throne, it's a credit to the filmmakers that they stick to the one they intended to tell.

However, as Christopher Hitchens and others have pointed out, some explanatory omissions alter the historical record when it comes to just how firm the royal family stood against the Nazis.

Since I tend to forgive taking liberties in fictional films, I'm less concerned with that sin than the film's ending, which manages to both fall flat and ring false.

The climactic speech is inspiring only if graded on a curve. I was disappointed. Even if you allow the speech credibility, the solemnity of the moment is immediately disrupted by the cheers and smiles of the king's staff and family. I understand the impulse to uplift, but consider the message being sent: Millions will suffer and die but fear not, our king has kicked his stammer!

A serious, solemn ending would have gone a long way to redeeming this film. Instead, we're stuck with a safe, middling picture; a Happy Meal movie: It'll make you feel good if you don't think too hard about where the stuff came from.

BEEN HERE BEFORE: The Philadelphia Story, Citizen Kane, Dr. Strangelove, The Graduate, Goodfellas, Saving Private Ryan, Pulp Fiction -- The Social Network will have all these and more as company if it loses out to a lesser film for Best Picture.

I've always felt like I've been behind at least a year in pop culture. I'm delighted this column has kept me up to date with movies.

I've seen all the films with major nominations, with the exception of tear-jerkers Rabbit Hole, Biutiful and Blue Valentine (they'd require a special mood I haven't been in lately). So I'm enjoying participating in all the Oscar banter without the usual sheepishness at having seen only a few nominees.