Few movies out there can land a genuine smile on your face. I’m talking pure unfiltered joy coming from the creativity beaming on screen, something we need now even more than when I first reviewed this film back in Toronto last fall.
“The Personal History of David Copperfield” manages to do that more than once, lifting spirits along the way. “Digs for joy, that boy,” Mrs. Peggotty says. “Finds it too!”
From the moment the film begins, every frame is filled with much to see, your eyeballs dart from one edge of the frame to another. Every single character popping onto the screen is funnier and more creative than the last. Even the minor ones make their mark with some quirky trait.
When the adorable young Copperfield matures into the charismatic Dev Patel (“Lion”), his magnetism jumps right off the screen and into the audience’s lap. If “Copperfield” has a flaw, it’s the running time. As enjoyable as the whimsey is, some of the subplots could be tightened and trimmed.
Young David Copperfield (Jairaj Varsani) loved everyone around him, following the death of his father at a young age, his mother’s new husband, the parasitic businessman Edward Murdstone (Darren Boyd), ships Copperfield off to work in his glass bottle factory.
He grows up in that factory, escaping only after his mother’s death. At first, he finds refuge with whoever will have him, then with his peculiar godmother Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton), where he learns some valuable and unusual life lessons.
As Copperfield (Patel) moves from home to home, he charms and inspires everyone he meets. Helpful, inspiring and kind, he leaves his mark, and he always tries to return the favor for the handouts he accepts. Copperfield’s kind-heartedness also is his crutch, and he finds that sometimes mixing one group with another can rock the boat.
The exquisite production value throughout “Copperfield” might remind viewers of “Harry Potter” with a dash of Wes Anderson. Each set is chock full of minor glorious details for the viewer to enjoy. The character’s costumes are as colorful as their personalities. The colorblind casting might confuse audiences at first, but this film contains the most beautiful assembly of diversity you’ll find anywhere.
Oscar-winner Swinton knocking over donkey’s and shouting phrases like, “I’ll box your ears,” are only delicious crumbs of what makes this epic adventure so rich and inviting. Life lessons around every corner, endless quotable scenes, and it achieves that warm feeling that makes you want to rewatch it as soon as it’s over.
I hope that’s what you walk away with.
You can’t make it more than halfway through the movie without realizing Armando Iannucci’s witty adaptation of Charles Dickens novel is among the best of the year. It’s rare to see such a trifecta of performances, writing and technical elements intersect together, providing a real treat for the senses.
For a story with so many colorful characters, the script manages them in a way that’s never daunting, reintroducing each with keen timing. You won’t find a more eclectic ensemble, which should easily grab attention for a SAG Award.
“Copperfield” also is a movie for all ages, you can sit anyone in front of this and watch their heart be warmed. Like “Monty Python” or “The Wizard of Oz” for a new era, it’s quite a showcase of Iannucci’s range as a filmmaker compared to “The Death of Stalin” or his award-winning work on “Veep.”
Final Thought: “Copperfield” is an invigorating buddle of joy that’s also surprisingly witty and creative.