Matilda (1996) dir. Danny DeVito


Chocolate cake, genius kids, and telekinesis. These are a few of the most memorable aspects of Danny DeVito’s take on Roald Dahl’s Matilda, the story of a young girl dealing with a miserable family environment and warring with the tyrannical figure of Ms. Trunchbull – a villain whose infamy is well-remembered by viewers familiar with this 90’s classic.

If you need a refresher, Agatha Trunchbull (played by Pam Ferris) is the principal of Crumchen Hall and presents herself as an authoritarian in every sense of the word. She’s prone to yelling, throwing children incredible distances, and forcing Crumchen’s students to devour mass quantities of chocolate cake in front of their peers.

On the story: Trunchbull, serving as the main antagonist, is one of many characters which forces the awakening of Matilda’s telekinetic powers. The others: Matilda’s parents (played by DeVito and his real-life partner, Rhea Perlman), a pair of characters shown as scam-artists, avid bingo players, and perhaps the biggest fans of TV dinners. Where conflict ensues is in the relation between Matilda and these folks, mainly in their constant critique of Matilda’s love for reading and learning.

Using her powers, Matilda inevitably defeats Trunchbull and, in a true storybook ending, is adopted by her teacher and friend, the compassionate Miss Honey (played by Embeth Davidtz).

Where DeVito shines in this classic is his capture of the childhood spirit: He succeeds in putting the mind of Matilda onscreen in the extraordinary direction of actors like Paul Reubens, Rhea Perlman, and the titular Mara Wilson who brings a sense of genuine curiosity and wit to her performance. The visuals may seem hokey at points, the effects outdated, but, in considering the time this film was made and the audience it was intended for, DeVito places a delightful nuance in telling what might otherwise have been a children’s movie cash-in.

Catch a chance to view what is widely considered a children’s classic and take time to reflect on why DeVito is more interested in falling out of couches on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia than making another foray into major Hollywood filmmaking…

or make your life easier and take this chance to catch a glimpse of Mara Wilson as she introduces this classic. And in the meantime? Check out her contributed writing for sites like NPR and the New York Times.

dir. Danny DeVito
98 min.
Special introduction by Mara Wilson!
Screens Thursday, 9/15 @ Brattle 8:30pm

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