×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Mr. Pip

This gimmicky story set during Papua New Guinea's civil war reaches for emotional effect in a fatally hamfisted fashion.

With:
Mr. Watts - Hugh Laurie
Matilda - Xzannjah
Dolores - Healesville Joel
Pip - Eka Darville
Mrs. Watts - Kerry Fox
Grace Watts - Florence Korokoro

Like fellow Kiwi Peter Jackson, Andrew Adamson has followed a run of large-scale fantasy entertainments (two “Shreks,” two “Narnias”) by adapting an inspirational-uplift literary novel. “Mr. Pip,” a lower profile adaptation of a less famous book, doesn’t carry the same risks as “The Lovely Bones” did, but this gimmicky story set during Papua New Guinea’s civil war is similarly overblown, reaching for emotional effect in a fatally hamfisted fashion. The film leans on a Dickens masterpiece, and so may have its proponents, but most filmgoers will be left wondering what the fuss is about.

On the isle of Bougainville, circa 1990, protests over copper mining and its profits have led to war between mainland Papuan troops and local rebels hiding in the mountains. Villages like the one in which teenage Matilda (Xzannjah) lives have lost many of their citizens — her father now works in Australia, and boys keep running off or being taken away to join the guerrilla forces.

The lone white man left is Mr. Watts (Hugh Laurie), an eccentric figure known for wearing a clown nose as he pulls his apparently mad native wife (Florence Korokoro) grandly around in a shaded cart. When he offers to serve as a replacement for the teacher whose evacuation had shuttered the school months ago, adults as well as children are dubious but curious. He disarms the kids, primarily by leaning on “Great Expectations” as a text to read aloud and discuss.

Matilda finds that story so compelling that she thinks about its characters incessantly, imagining them on her own terms, as blacks in fanciful quasi-Victorian dress, in sequences that rep the script’s major (though not very effective) divergence from Lloyd Jones’ novel. But her fascination with Dickens’ protagonist Pip creates a misunderstanding among soldiers, who think the villagers are hiding a rebel fugitive. This has fateful consequences for her devout, narrow-minded mother (Healesville Joel), Mr. Watts, and everyone else caught between the warring factions.

Jones’ well-crafted but pat fiction is at heart a self-congratulatory story about the magic of storytelling, which uses slavish homage to a classic as a conceptual crutch. Uncomfortably, it also features a lone, seemingly hopeless white man who sacrifices on behalf of pidgin-speaking natives.

Still, the source material could have made for a better film. “Mr. Pip” doesn’t start going seriously awry until its second half, when things get more eventful in ways that are compacted from the novel yet seem more disconnected, with epilogues plodding several years forward. Rather than resonating as epic and touching, however, these scenes muddle the point, and become tedious.

While Laurie has his moments, delivering a big, awkward emotional speech at one point, and a shorter comic sequence in which Watts hammily portrays Dickens’ characters at another, he nevertheless can’t seem to get a hold on the role, in a vague, walk-through performance that leaves open the question of whether the thesp can translate his smallscreen triumph in “House” to bigscreen stardom. The 15-year-old Xzannjah lacks expressiveness; other thesps are just adequate in one-note roles.

John Toon’s handsome location lensing highlights a glossy package coated in orchestral syrup.

Popular on Variety

Mr. Pip

New Zealand

Production: An Olympus Pictures, New Zealand Film Commission, NZ on Air and Daydream Prods. presentation in association with Eyeworks Film of a Strange Weather production. (International sales: Focus Features, Los Angeles.) Produced by Andrew Adamson, Robin Scholes, Leslie Urdang, Sean Vanech. Executive producers, Tim Coddington, Timothy White, Dan Revers, James Dean, Julie Christie. Co-producers, Geoff Linville, Lloyd Jones. Directed by Andrew Adamson. Screenplay, Adamson, based on the novel by Lloyd Jones.

Crew: Camera (color), John Toon; editor, Sim Evan-Jones; music, Tim Finn, Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Grant Major; supervising art director, Jill Cormack; set decorator, Megan Vertelle; costume designer, Ngila Dickson; sound, Mike Westgate, Fred Enholmer; re-recording mixers, Mike Hedges, Gilbert Lake; sound designer, Tim Prebble; assistant director, Simon Ambridge; casting, Nikki Barrett. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 10, 2012. Running time: 130 MIN.

Cast: Mr. Watts - Hugh Laurie
Matilda - Xzannjah
Dolores - Healesville Joel
Pip - Eka Darville
Mrs. Watts - Kerry Fox
Grace Watts - Florence Korokoro(English, Nasoi dialogue)

More Scene

  • 10 Storytellers to Watch

    Variety Celebrates Inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch Event

    Storytellers from across the spectrum of entertainment — film, literature, podcasting and play writing — were honored Thursday at Variety’s inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch luncheon at Gramercy Park Hotel, hosted with partner the Independent Filmmaker Project and presented by Audible. Honorees Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of “Friday Black”; “Limetown” podcasters Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie; [...]

  • Demi Moore Corporate Animals

    Demi Moore Teases Upcoming Memoir 'Inside Out,' Talks 'Corporate Animals' Team Bonding

    As Demi Moore gears up for the Sept. 24 release of her autobiography “Inside Out,” the actress says she feels like a weight has been lifted. “Even the stuff that I may have been nervous about is completely lifting…because it’s a process,” Moore told Variety at the premiere of her upcoming film “Corporate Animals” at [...]

  • Connie Britton BlogHer Summit

    Connie Britton on ‘Friday Night Lights’ Remake: ‘You Need to Let it Go’

    Connie Britton opened up at a fireside chat Wednesday at the #BlogHer19 Creators Summit in Brooklyn by talking about one of her most beloved roles — Tami Taylor in the fan favorite series “Friday Night Lights.” When asked if a remake of the sports cult film and Emmy-winning TV show is in the works she [...]

  • Mariah Carey Tracee Ellis Ross

    Mariah Carey, Tracee Ellis Ross Celebrate Biracial Heritage at “Mixed-ish” Premiere

    Mariah Carey and Tracee Ellis Ross embraced their “ish” at Tuesday night’s series premiere event for ABC’s “Mixed-ish” by reflecting on how their biracial identity makes working on the new show even more personal. “I’m just so thankful that this show exists,” Carey told the assembled crowd during a Q&A with series creator Kenya Barris. [...]

  • #WorldIsInOurHands Campaign

    Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Joaquin Phoenix And More Join #WorldIsInOurHands Campaign

    At the 44th annual Toronto Film Festival last week, in addition to attending red-carpet premieres and promoting films, some stars also joined in the fight to tackle the climate crisis. Antonio Banderas, Susan Sarandon, Joaquin Phoenix, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Neve Campbell and Alfre Woodard are among the bold-faced names to join forces with the [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Lowell Smokes Cafe Marijuana

    With Cannabis Lounges, On-Site Consumption, Marijuana-Infused Meals Go Legit

    Can this century’s Roaring ’20s repeat history but with pre-rolled joints instead of whiskey flasks and soccer moms as the new flappers? This month, West Hollywood will see the opening of the nation’s first at least quasi-legal cannabis consumption lounge, officially dubbed Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café, located at 1211 N. La Brea between Fountain [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content