Hours, The

Stars:    Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Claire Danes
Director:   Stephen Daldry
Screenwriter:   David Hare, from the novel by Michael Cunningham

The Hours is based on Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel which sensitively draws on the life and work of British author Virginia Woolf to tell the story of three women: Woolf (Nicole Kidman) herself, who in 1923, is portrayed as struggling with dementia as she begins writing her novel Mrs. Dalloway and two women in different eras who are essentially living the same despairing and superficial lives as the fictional characters Woolf created.

Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is a wife and mother and is soon to give birth to her second child. She resides in a suffocating “Suzy Homemaker” lifestyle in 1950s Los Angeles while hiding lesbian yearnings. On this day, we see Laura reading Woolf’s great novel and attempting to bake a birthday cake for her husband as she contemplates suicide. And in present day New York City, Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) puts aside her job as an editor and her relationship with another woman to plan an important party for her closest friend and former lover, Richard (Ed Harris), an award-winning poet who’s dying of AIDS.

Woolf suffered mental breakdowns for years, as a result of childhood abuses, and eventually committed suicide in 1941; Her Mrs. Dalloway reflected themes of life, death, sanity and insanity and the importance of living life to its fullest possibilities. In stunningly beautiful fashion, The Hours infuses the same such themes with a unique urgency as it expertly intercuts these three, seemingly “ordinary” women’s lives to show how each resolves her inner turmoils.

The Hours will forever shine as the result of the powerful performances by three of Hollywood’s best actresses: Kidman is miraculously transformed in looks and spirit into the troubled yet self-perceptive Woolf; Moore, as she did in Far From Heaven, brilliantly exudes the emotional conflicts of the tight wrapped fifties while Streep elegantly portrays a modern woman, confused, frightened and vibrant all at the same time.

Stephen Dillane does a remarkable job playing Virginia’s supportive husband Leonard. His reactions in the scene at the rail station in which Virginia describes her deteriorating condition and need for a more stimulating environment are achingly touching. Ed Harris’s performance as the AIDS-ravaged Richard is extremely well played. There is not a false note with any character or circumstance in the entire film.

Lotta says: At one point, Virginia Woolf tells her husband that one of her story’s characters must die so that others may know life. Movies like The Hours must be made to remind us to think, feel, and think again.

The excellent cast also includes: John C. Reilly as Laura’s husband Dan; Toni Collette as Laura’s friend Kitty; Jeff Daniels as Richard’s former companion; Claire Danes as Clarissa’s daughter; Allison Janney as Clarissa’s lover Sally.

It’s rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some disturbing images and brief language.

Reviewed: 1/17/03