The Beguiled

The pig, isled

I n an effort to squeeze Kirsten Dunst into more period dresses, Sofia Coppola took on the Civil War, pairing a wounded Yankee (Colin Farrell) with a septet of Virginia ladies. Have Southern belles lightened there collective stance on Northern soldiers since Gone with the Wind? Maybe. Or maybe these seven just haven’t had their entire lives ruined by war quite yet.

It is the summer of 1864 and wounded Army of the Potomac deserter Corporal McBurney (Farrell) has been shot in the leg and left for dead. To tell the truth, the relatively new immigrant is lucky the leg is still attached; the Minié ball was a killer.  When a small Southern school girl finds McBurney and drags him to her schoolhouse, the buckshot removed by school head Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) suggests the corporal wasn’t a victim of the Civil War’s most common weapon. He may even walk again.

So this is the set-up – wounded enemy soldier rehabilitating in the music room, seven Southern belles of various ages occupy the house, and everybody wants a piece of their new Irish lucky charm. And charm is the best word here – McBurney’s recovery could be set to Al Green music. After 30 minutes, the question, “can we stand to harbor to enemy?” has morphed into which eligible lady is going to end up with McBurney – will it be “gosh, you melted fast” Edwina (Dunst), “jealousy is so unbecoming” Alicia (Elle Fanning), or “seriously, you too?” headmistress Martha.

And don’t forget all the smaller girls love him, too. Corporal McBurney doesn’t want to return, either. Would you? Hmmm, on the one hand, there’s a big war with many, many casualties. On the other, there’s a house full of women who literally compete to please him. On the latter, it’s hard to judge the exaggeration – by 1864, the war had been on for three full years and almost every Southern man, teen or boy was involved in some fashion. How desperate were these women that they would happily serve an enemy soldier? Was his relatively new immigration from Ireland a factor?  The part where he denounces soldiering but loves pampering couldn’t hurt. We probably shouldn’t discount that he looks like Colin Farrell; there’s a point in the film in which Farrell shaves a thick war beard and literally looks as young as he did in Minority Report.

Hence, the biggest question is: who is The Beguiled? Is it the soldier? Is it the headmistress? Is it Dunst? Fanning? Or perhaps one of the girls. And the reason you ask this question repeatedly is because this film has a serious drought of conflict in the middle. Once the occupants figure out McBurney isn’t dangerous, there’s a whole lot o’ butter and not a lot o’ crust in this film. For whatever ways the audience has been Beguiled, there are a handful of instances in which the viewer will almost plead with Ms. Coppola to get to act III already – did Southern belles have a term for “boytoy?”  Because the coy has gone on long enough; stop playtime and get to some action.

Seven ladies and soldier
All within a school
The seven devout decided to
Invoke the golden rule

The soldier, he was an enemy
His uniform said so
But the females wanted company
And hence did let it go

Yet a competition raced
To garner corporal favor
And everybody in a dress
Gave company to savor

Ain’t seven women gonna pander
Forever and a day
Unless you’re Mormon, I suspect
Evil will find a way

Rated R, 93 Minutes
D: Sofia Coppola
W: Sofia Coppola
Genre: Blue v. Reb states
Type of person most likely to enjoy this film: The family Coppola
Type of person least likely to enjoy this film: Action junkies

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