Movie Review: ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’

Greetings again from the darkness. At this point, I believe it’s fair to say we have a Jane Austen sub-genre for film, TV, and books. After all, it’s been more than 200 years, and her novels have remained in print, have also been adapted too many times to count, and inspired countless writers and filmmakers to follow in her footsteps. The success of the “Bridgerton” series is a testament to the Jane Austen realm, despite being adapted from the novels of Julia Quinn. For this first feature film from director Emma Holly Jones, Suzanne Allain has adapted the screenplay from her own novel, and interestingly, this is a feature length version of Ms. Jones’ 2019 short film, with most of the cast and crew returning.

The film opens in 1802 England as youngsters Julia and Selina solidify their BFF bond. Flashing forward to a majestic castle in 1818, we find it’s mating season for high society, and Julia (Zawe Ashton) has her sights set on the catch-of-the-year, Mr. Jeremy Malcolm (Sope Dirisu). Their first date to the opera tells Malcolm everything he needs to know to rule out Julia as a prospective match. Her ignorance on current affairs and overall personality prevent any type of love connection. Though her feelings are hurt at the rejection, Julia likely would have moved on if not for a public humiliation related to the date, but not caused by Malcolm. When Julia discloses her embarrassment to her cousin, Lord Cassidy (an excellent Oliver Jackson-Cohen), he confides that Malcolm has crafted a list of requirements for his future bride. Instantly, Julia begins scheming to turn the tables of ‘humiliation’ on Malcolm, hoping to regain her reputation … one tarnished by four previous seasons without a match.

Julia’s scheme requires two co-conspirators. Lord Cassidy has already been bullied into the ring, and next up is her childhood friend, Selina (Freida Pinto). Selina is of a lower class than Julia, and against her better judgement (and sweet demeanor) agrees to the plan: playing the role of the perfect match for Malcolm before humiliating him by exposing his ‘list’. Of course, anyone who has ever watched a movie or read a book knows where this is headed … and that’s exactly where it goes. Selina and Malcolm do prove to be a good match, and she is overwhelmed by guilt.

Like Mr. Malcolm, I have a list … only my list is for the issues I have with the film:
1. Julia is neither smart nor nice, and would be a poor match for most men
2. Her plot for revenge proves her mean streak, as Malcolm never publicly humiliated her
3. Malcolm has good looks and lots of money, but otherwise doesn’t seem like much fun
4. Selina is smart, but we never see why she falls for Malcolm – other than his looks and money
5. Selina seems too nice to ever go along with Julia’s devious plan against a guy who did nothing wrong
6. The twist with Captain Henry Ossory is totally unbelievable and fabricated strictly for a happy ending
7. The cast diversity plays like a gimmick and totally ignores genetics. There are more legitimate ways to achieve diversity

My list is longer than Mr. Malcolm’s, but you get the point on why the film didn’t work for me. Julia is unlucky in love because she is not likable, and Mr. Malcolm is a bit dull, and is only a “catch” because of looks and money. We never care about either of these characters. And shouldn’t everyone have a ‘list’ of characteristics they desire in a mate? It’s probably for all these reasons that I found the movie uncomfortable to watch and entirely too long. That said, the cast is superb and the performances are admirable in spite the issues I have with the script and story. Many viewers will likely ignore what bugged me here, and I contend the best of the recent entries in this genre continues to be EMMA. (2020)

Opens in theaters on July 1, 2022

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