Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Originally filmed in 2008 and released in international markets in 2009, the first big-screen adaptation of the works of beloved novelist Paulo Coelho finally arrives on U.S. shores. The work, VERONIKA DECIDES TO DIE, is considered to be the most-filmable of the spiritual and mystic nature of Coelho’s writings. It is a simple story with enough under the surface to work with; enough for director Emily Young to either explore or muck up.

After a failed suicide attempt, Veronika (Sarah Michelle Gellar) awakens in a mental institution run by an un-orthodox doctor (David Thewlis), and discovers that her botched attempt has caused a sensitive heart condition which gives her just a few days (or weeks) to live. She befriends fellow inmates which include amute (Jonathan Tucker), a loose-upstairs roommate (Erika Christensen), and a mysterious woman (Melissa Leo).

VERONIKA DECIDES TO DIE is set up with the simplest of parts; losing a want to live and finding it again. Such simplicity is deepened with the added element of Veronika still facing an inevitable death, only this time the clock is uncertain. Putting a person who wants to die in the face of death but taking it out of their control is great material to work with, and the first half or so of the film makes for a great setup.

Director Emily Young, in her first big-screen venture, grips the audience well and early, but then lets it all go as this sea of possibility is only explored with the water going up to the ankles. Veronika’s reasons for wanting to die are never fully fleshed out, and her journey back towards the light-side comes suddenly and too quickly. Young seems to be working from a first-draft of the script; with only the easy-to-understand parts present in the film.

The film is far from a disaster and Young does show great promise. A nice atmosphere of dread hangs over the narrative, and things are photographed beautifully. Pacing is quick and some more dramatic scenes are handled well. Some odd editing decisions take away from Veronika’s journey, as too much time is spent away from her and is a major distraction while other characters and a goofy subplot involving a doctor and another patient are messed around with. The score, composed mostly of piano pieces, is fantastic.

Acting is very good. Sarah Michelle Gellar owns the film and effectively gives us a range of emotions from anger to sadness to lifelessness to flat-out rage. She’s the best part of the film and rightfully so. Jonathan Tucker spends most of the film as a mute, which gives him the opportunity to effectively act with his eyes and body language. Erika Christensen is fantastic as the bug-eyed looney, and David Thewlis and Melissa Leo are their usual brilliant selves.

The finale involves a major twist which turns the entire film around, and is almost good enough to forgive the sins Young has committed. Almost. From a technical standpoint, VERONIKA is nearly perfect, and it’s only a misunderstanding of the material which holds it back. Worth a look as a curiosity piece.


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