Film, Go To

GO TO: Matilda (1996) Dir. Danny DeVito

12/10 @ BRATTLE



Matilda is a gleefully silly adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl book, maintaining the charismatic goofiness of Dahl’s work despite its many divergences from its source. Its welcomingly lighthearted tone and elementary charm are fairly well juxtaposed with a story of a magical girl living in neglectful, borderline abusive environments. It follows Matilda Wormwood (Mara Wilson), an exceptionally bright 6-year-old neglected by her family of goofy simpletons: her brother, Michael (Brian Levinson), and mother, Zinnia (Rhea Perlman), and her crook car salesman father, Michael (Danny DeVito). The three reject Matilda’s intellect in favor of their simpler lifestyle, neglecting and criticizing her whenever she presents her witty, academic-oriented traits. After pranking her parents in reaction to a punishment, Matilda gets enrolled in a local boarding school run by a child-loathing dictator of a principal, Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris). Though Miss Trunchbull is obscenely verbally and physically cruel, Matilda’s personal teacher, Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz), sees her gifts and wants to help her succeed. In attempting to give Matilda the academic and emotional attention she needs, the pair endure strenuous, stealthy, and confrontational adventures––in which Matilda eventually discovers her powers.

Director-star Danny DeVito’s take on Matilda differs by several strokes from the original novel. But his goofier, looser approach to the narrative and core themes mostly pays off. Dahl’s poignant highlight of familial exclusion with classist remarks still shines bright. There is a distinctive bubbly charm that all stars exude (minus Miss Honey) making even the cruelest scenes amusing. The narrative is relatable to any person who felt like the black sheep of their family as a kid, making everything funny but subliminally tragic. Every scene, particularly where Matilda, Michael, and Miss Trunchbull slam onto screens, is eclectic and electric, reinforcing the film with childlike innocence, ignorant immaturity, and dictatorial ridiculousness, respectively. The film meanders a bit, some side characters feel mildly two-bit, and the massive plot twist is too predictable. Still, the film is mostly a whimsical conglomeration of laughter and abuse to communicate and provide a solid example of the need for attentive parenting.

dir. Danny DeVito
98 min.

Screens Sunday, 12/10, 2:15pm @ Brattle Theatre

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