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An Extraordinary Little Girl

September 7th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Orphan 2009 Isabelle Fuhrman pic 1

The Bechdel Test was named for Allison Bechdel, whose comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For in 1985 measured the female presence in movies by employing three criteria: Are there two or more women in it, with names? Do the women talk to each other? About something other than a man? Far too many mainstream movies flunk this test, but in the month of September, I take a look at ten recent movies that pass.

Orphan 2009 U.S. poster Orphan 2009 French poster

Orphan (2009)
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay by David Leslie Johnson, story by Alex Mace
Produced by Joel Silver, Susan Downey, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Leonardo DiCaprio
123 minutes

Orphan has been given a body of sophisticated allure but in an effort to fit in with the crowd, its brain is trailer trash. An executive named Alex Mace with Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way sketched a 10-page treatment, the first three pages of which detailed the past of a sinister orphan named Esther. That material became the basis for a screenplay David Leslie Johnson won the job of adapting. Johnson’s chief inspiration was The Bad Seed, which he referred to as “the quintessential evil kid movie.” Warner Bros. suggested that project would be straight up the alley of Joel Silver’s B-movie shingle Dark Castle Entertainment. Silver hired Jaume Collet-Serra — who got his start in commercials and music videos and made his feature film debut with Dark Castle’s remake of House of Wax — to direct.

Johnson and Collet-Serra were fans of Roman Polanski’s psychological thrillers, but don’t have the nerve to develop their characters, deploy wit or let ambiguity work its black magic. Instead, their ambitions seem to begin and end with the slasher movie, with Esther taking over wherever Chucky left off, but without any of the lil bastard’s glee. Following the rules Roger Ebert laid down for The Idiot Plot, Orphan would be over in 5 minutes if every adult in the story wasn’t an idiot. Vera Farmiga is the saving grace of the project, which is so laughable in its pretense that it would be impossible to sit through without her. Working with a better cast than Elisha Cuthbert or Paris Hilton this time out, Collet-Serra is doing a poor man’s version of Seven designed primarily to give 13-year-olds in the cafeteria something to debate the stupidity of.

Orphan 2009 title card

Following the stillbirth of her third child, composer Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) works to overcome issues of alcohol abuse and depression, attending counseling with her therapist (Margo Martindale). Residing in picture perfect Connecticut with her architect husband John (Peter Sarsgaard), 11-year-old Danny (Jimmy Bennett) and deaf 6-year-old Max (Aryana Engineer), Kate decides she’s ready to adopt. Visiting a girl’s orphanage, Kate and John connect with a beguiling 9-year-old named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who paints and seems to keep her own company. Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder) explains that Esther is from Russia originally and that the family who brought her to America died in a house fire. The sister adds that Esther is uncommonly bright, mature for her age and a bit of a princess.

Adopted by the Colemans, Esther is resented by Danny due to the attention his father lavishes on the girl. She insists on wearing pilgrim attire to school and pitches a fit when a bitch classmate grabs the ribbon Esther keeps around her neck. Kate begins to ponder Esther’s trustworthiness when that classmate mysteriously slips off a fort and breaks her ankle. Max knows that the girl was pushed, but keeps it a secret. Sister Abigail pays a house call to reveal the history of accidents that seem to follow Esther wherever she goes.  Esther uses Max to lure the sister to her death. The hellion hides the evidence in a treehouse and when she catches Danny spying on her, threatens to cut his thing off if he tells. As Kate’s suspicion of her adopted daughter grows, both her husband and her therapist begin to question the woman’s sanity.

Orphan 2009 Vera Farmiga pic 2

Orphan 2009 Aryana Engineer pic 3

Orphan 2009 Vera Farmiga Peter Sarsgaard pic 4

Orphan 2009 Isabelle Fuhrman pic 5

Orphan 2009 Isabelle Fuhrman pic 6

Orphan 2009 Vera Farmiga pic 7

Orphan 2009 Vera Farmiga Isabelle Fuhrman pic 8

Orphan 2009 Peter Sarsgaard Vera Farmiga pic 9

Orphan 2009 Isabelle Fuhrman pic 10

Orphan 2009 Peter Sarsgaard Vera Farmiga pic 11

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 72,046 users: 65% for Orphan

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 42 for Orphan

What do you say?

Tags: Brother/sister relationship · Dreams and visions · Midlife crisis · Mother/daughter relationship · No opening credits · Paranoia · Psycho killer · Psychoanalysis · Woman in jeopardy

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Marilyn // Sep 7, 2010 at 6:24 am

    Jimmy Bennett is really a wonderful young actor and was also in your last Bechdel film “Trucker.” It’s too bad he and Farmiga were wasted in this film.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Sep 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Marilyn: The first time I heard of Vera Farmiga was The Departed, but the first time I saw what she could do as an actress was in Quid Pro Quo where she gives a marvelous screwball performance. Farmiga has earned her opportunity for a big paycheck and that’s all I really have to say about Orphan. Thanks for commenting!

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