My Brilliant Career (1976)


Not, as the poster may imply, actually about prostitution...
Not, as the poster may imply, actually about prostitution...

Genre: Biography Drama Romance (Australia) 

Starring: Judy Davis (Barton Fink • The Ref), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park • The Hunt for Red October)

Directed By: Gillian Armstrong (Charlotte Gray • Little Women (1994))

Overview: Sybylla Melvyn is a farmer's daughter with has lofty dreams of fame in the world of the arts. This feisty, spirited and independant woman living in Australia at the turn of the 20th century must decide between her hopes and dreams and the reality of planning for her future.

With a cast like Judy Davis and Sam Neill, with the visual treat of a period piece whose cinematographer takes full advantage of the rich Australian farmland and the epic horizons in which our characters live - with a foundation like that, the quality of My Brilliant Career is almost guaranteed. I say almost, because frankly, I wasn't impressed.
Never having heard of this movie, My Brilliant Career was exclusively a 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die study film. The problem with such a book is that every film can't possibly appeal to everyone. Enter the jaded, tragedy-loving, Canadian film snob who thought of My Brilliant Career much as he did of The Virgin Suicides, if I may paraphrase my own thoughts: "Wow, this is probably really compelling, but given that I'm not an overprotected virgin girl with zealot parents, einh..." Of course whenever I watch an 'out of the box' film, I try to see a little of what made it work, what made it famous, and what made it Tome-worthy.
My Brilliant Career is the story of Sybylla Melvyn, a young Australian woman living at the turn of the 20th century. We open with her narrating her novel, clearly the lofty dream of an absent-minded ugly girl who'd much prefer to practice poetry, piano or anything else art-related than earn a living or earn a husband. Rather quickly this girl gets a strong dose of reality when she's thrust into the chosing one of the two. Thinking out of the box, she opts to be shipped off to her grandmother's more wealthy, more distinguished abode where she learns what is required of her as a young lady, or rather, we learn exactly how headstrong and independent she is when she uses the expected code of conduct as a hitlist of defiance. The advances of a well-meaning if dweeby suitor are not taken with blushing demeanour.  A bouquet of picked flowers is given a warm thanks, yet promptly tossed in the river after he leaves. Advances become stronger as do the retorts - back-handed comments and even outright dismissive assault. The sexier and more refined suitor played by Sam Neill has a much better shot, but Sybylla, despite it all, still wishes more for herself than being tied down to a clutch of kids, and refreshing for a Romantic film, we're drawn into a love story that may genuinely end in a question mark. No wiorries kiddies, no spoliers here.
The touch of feminist perspective is a welcome one, especially given that the novel was written in 1901, and the tale is solidly told, yet with my original caveat of 'My Brilliant Career is just not my kind of movie',  I will say that I found it lacking in the thing I needed for it to be compelling; however if you're looking for period piece that isn't too costume, isn't too English, and isn't too racy for watching with your mom, you have in My Brilliant Career a beautifully shot and well-acted film that has made a name for itself, even if that name isn't in my repertoire.

Not exactly a real GUY'S movie...
Not exactly a real GUY'S movie...

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 9 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 78% (Might Shine For You)

Ooo look at that, My Brilliant Career actually IS in my repertoire now.  Another welcome drop in the bucket of film history.

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