Release date: Nov. 12
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Oscar alumni: Bill Condon (screenplay, “Gods and Monsters”), Timothy Hutton (supporting actor, “Ordinary People”)
The challenge for “Kinsey” won’t be in critical reception, but in garnering Academy support for subject matter of a delicate, sometimes controversial, nature.
But Oscar winner Bill Condon’s biopic of famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey is so handsomely told and ultimately moving that its goodwill leaves a much more lasting impression than its naughty topics.
Celebrated unspoolings at Toronto and Telluride, where Roger Ebert called star Liam Neeson’s performance Oscar-worthy, provided key early momentum. Condon — who last told the story of gay Hollywood filmmaker James Whale — is building a rep as a sensitive, intelligent film biographer. And biopics — from “The Life of Emile Zola” through “A Beautiful Mind” — have long been an Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences standby.
Condon’s movie portrays Kinsey as a dedicated scientist from a repressive family background who leaves entomology behind to take up the cause of educating a public ill-informed about sex. A popular “marriage” course at Indiana U. leads to an ambitious nationwide study of male and female sexual practices, the data culled from thousands of individual interviews.
Where many saw Kinsey’s work as leading to an open and more accepting view of human differences, more puritanical sorts saw a shift toward a culture of hedonism. Those debates continue today, and might in the wake of the film’s release generate the kind of opinion pieces and editorials that sway more conservative Oscar voters.
Neeson’s magnificently rendered Kinsey, charmingly bull-headed in his desire to spread education and fight judgmental types, could garner the actor his second actor nomination for playing an enigmatic real-life character (his first was for “Schindler’s List”).
Laura Linney, as Kinsey’s level-headed, assertive wife, Clara, shines in scenes both playful and wrenching, and could land her second nom as well (“You Can Count on Me”). The pair have noted with amusement that they’ve segued from playing a Puritan couple on Broadway (in “The Crucible”) to sex researchers.
As one of Kinsey’s researchers whose charm and sexually experimental nature lead him to intimacies with both Kinseys, Peter Saarsgard proves that he is becoming one of Hollywood’s best character actors, and could score a nom for his subtle work here.
An exciting tech possibility is a first nomination for the talented cinematographer Frederick Elmes, who lends texture and warmth to a story about much that is clinical. Period aspects of this early 20th-century life could also mean recognition for never-been-nominated costume designer Bruce Finlayson.