It’s never fun when a beloved novel lands on screen with a discernible thunk – and that’s putting it mildly in the case of ‘The Goldfinch’. Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winner flew by, swiftly touching on symbolic scenes of Manhattan terrorism and adolescent abandonment. Its spirit is missing from this overlong movie version, slackened by wall-to-wall sad music and droopy narration.
Ansel Elgort, never persuasive as a tortured soul, brings us into the character of Theodore Decker, survivor of an explosion in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that claimed the life of his mother. Enduring PTSD and rootlessness, his younger self (played by Oakes Fegley) is harboured by a wealthy Upper East Side family and their concerned matriarch (Nicole Kidman, the film’s standout turn). But just as that situation seems to be tipping toward permanence, Theo’s estranged alcoholic dad (a cartoonish Luke Wilson) and his trashy girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) show up unannounced and whisk the boy off to suburban Las Vegas, where things soon go south.
Director John Crowley gets overloaded by the script’s plodding and-then-this-happened trudge; it’s too bad, because he pulled off something of a miracle with the Ireland-to-America immigrant romance ‘Brooklyn’ (this time there’s no Saoirse Ronan to anchor it all). On its way to a drab climax that somehow involves a shootout in Amsterdam, ‘The Goldfinch’ throws in so many extra characters that you wonder if anyone thought this stew was going to be edible. If you loved the book, it might be fun to check them off your mental list. But fans would have been hoping for a lot more.