Lizzie

Lizzie

2018, R, 105 min. Directed by Craig William Macneill. Starring Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O'Hare.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Sept. 21, 2018

There are two ways to handle historical true crime: Either stick as close to the facts as possible, or go into full flights of fancy. Basically, you can have a 10 Rillington Place or In Cold Blood, or you can go completely crazy and have a time-traveling Jack the Ripper in Time After Time. Falling in between those two posts can just lead to a nasty fall, like the hideously ill-considered From Hell, which was neither the original comic's shamanistic retelling of the history of London, nor an honest re-enactment. Such versions feel oddly disrespectful, like the actual lives of the victims are something to be played with for points. That, rather sadly, is where Lizzie stumbles: A murky and didactic retelling of the infamous and still unsolved 1892 Borden family slayings in Fall River, Mass., that has little to do with the actual events, and far more to do with contemporary politics.

In this interpretation, there's no question whether Lizzie (Sevigny) did the dirty deed, as it's shown in the bloody denouement. Instead, it's about motivation: The deaths are her attempt to liberate herself from the clutches of her father (Sheridan), while she awakens into a relationship with housemaid Bridget "Maggie" Sullivan (Stewart).

Sheridan as the doomed Andrew Borden stands in for the entire patriarchy, a malevolent, abusive figure who has oppressed his daughters and everyone else in town, a cartoonish mixture of Harvey Weinstein and Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life (the only sin he doesn't commit is gaslighting, and fortunately O'Hare as family friend and business partner John Morse is there to pick up that slack). Meanwhile, Sevingy's Lizzie has every burden of a 19th century middle-class woman – a lack of financial independence, sexual repression, having every emotional outburst be written off as hysteria. Yet it's oddly difficult to be sympathetic with her because every character trait is spelled out in capital letters, even if much of her performance depends on Lizzie truculently pursing her lips, like a minor Chekhov character. This rewriting may work better if Lizzie wasn't so remorselessly dreary and oddly unhistorical in little details. There are also moments that feel dismissive of facts, such as Andrew stripping Bridget of her real name, like he's relabeling her (in her testimony at the trial, Sullivan said that Maggie was Lizzie and her sister Emma's nickname for her). Dialogue is reduced to consistent mumbled whispering, in an attempt to build mood and tension, but that's as ineffectual as the sepia-tinged photography is at evoking the period.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Chloë Sevigny Films
Lean on Pete
Equine tale is a lot deeper than the cheesy subject suggests.

Marc Savlov, April 20, 2018

The Dinner
Family ties come undone in this dark drama

Josh Kupecki, May 5, 2017

More by Richard Whittaker
Triggering a <i>Time Trap</i>
Q&A: Time Trap
Ben Foster and Mark Dennis on the Hill Country sci-fi flick

Nov. 9, 2018

Other Worlds Austin Goes to an <i>Alien Nation</i>
Other Worlds Austin Goes to an Alien Nation
Sci-fi and horror fest releases full, final lineup

Nov. 9, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Lizzie, Craig William Macneill, Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O'Hare

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle