Call me a wet noodle, a buzzkill, or a “namby-pamby” (a term I learned from this movie), but I did not fall under the romantic spell of Mr. Malcolm’s List. In fact, I thought Mr. Malcolm’s List was pretty cheesy. Then again, the love-struck emotions in Emma Holly Jones’ period piece are supposed to hit those levels of mushy sentimentality. It’s just a matter of reigning them in before they spill over to become just plain mush, which this filmmaker wasn’t careful of.
Driven by a revenge plot, an embarrassed woman, Julia (Velvet Buzzsaw’s Zawe Ashton), targets a selfish suitor, Jeremiah Malcolm (Sope Dirisu, from Netflix’s exceptional horror His House), who has turned her down for not fitting the specific requirements he’s looking for in a partner. Julia gets her long-time friend Selina (Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire fame) to pose as a qualifying love interest for Jeremiah only to reject and embarrass him. Screenwriter Suzanne Allain (adapting from her own novel of the same name) plays “the long game” with her characters and the audience to build chemistry towards an expected revealing climax, but it just feels like padding towards an inevitable and predictable outcome.
Mr. Malcolm’s List, while sufficiently sophisticated through its costumes and set design, is otherwise going through the motions of a standard period romance. I was reminded of recent, equally conventional adaptations like Emma or Ophelia, but even those movies were more committed to their suggestive stories and their filmmakers were able to cut to the heart of the story. Mr. Malcolm’s List, however, really milks its playful flirtatious vibes to a degree that softens the movie’s dramatic and emotional effect; leaving the innocuous film to be merely a recommendation for teenagers looking for a light flick to take their dates to, or older couples who are seeking a matinée to attend before their early bird dinner.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie