This is a fictionalized account of James Whale’s (Ian McKellen) final days. For those of you that don’t know who he is, he is probably most famous for directing “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein”. This movie is set in 1957. James had been retired from directing for many years now and has recently suffered a stroke. Which has mainly affected his brain function, not his motor skills.
While James is trying to deal with the aftermath of his stroke, he befriends his gardener, Clay Boone (Brendan Fraser). Even though there are certainly many ups and downs to their friendship, they both see something in the other that they can relate to. Through their conversations we start to learn about both of their backgrounds.
The other main character is Hanna (Lynn Redgrave). She has been James housekeeper for fifteen years. You can see she cares deeply for him and is very much a “mother-hen” when it comes to dealing with James. She takes very good care of him. Her character is such fun and Lynn does a fabulous job.
I absolutely adore Ian McKellen. He is a wonderful actor and has such a great screen presence. This role is perfect for him. There is such a regal air about him and like James Whale, you get the feeling that he has so many stories to tell. Ian and Brendan are incredible together.
Brendan is also an amazing actor. Unfortunately, many of the roles that he has chosen lately don’t make use of the full extent of his abilities. They are more of “action hero” type things, which he can basically perform in his sleep and they certainly don’t give him the chance to show what he is capable of. I’m not sure if he has just been typecast into those sorts of roles due to the fact that he is a big guy (6′ 3 ½”) and performs those roles so well or if he choosing them on purpose. Either way it’s too bad, because there is much more to him than that. This movie really showcases his talent, from subtle and understated to angry outbursts and everything in between.
The heart of this movie is the fascinating journey that James and Clay take. They are both lonely, came from the wrong side of the tracks, don’t fit in well with their families and feel like life is passing them by. However, they both are having trouble trying to figure out what the other man wants from them. Clay is concerned that James wants him for his body. James doesn’t understand why a big, strong, “straight”, ex-marine would want to hang out with him. They keep feeling that the other one must have some sort of agenda.
There are many flashback sequences, as current day events make James relive moments from his past. Original footage from both “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein” are used as well. It’s a nice touch to have both of those movies represented.
When Hanna is trying to talk to Clay about the fact that James is a homosexual, but doesn’t know the correct word to use (she is Hungarian) and at the same time she is also assuming that Clay is one as well, is just a terrific scene. Both Brendan and Lynn are fabulous and play off each other so well. It is awkward and funny at the same time, but eventually they get to the point where they understand each other.
The scene where Clay goes as James’ guest to the party for Princess Margaret is fun. You can tell James really enjoys stirring things up and has a blast when everyone sees him with his “eye-candy”. Then he just lets everyone jump to whatever conclusions that they might want to. In fact, it seems he is hoping that they will in fact jump to the wrong one.
Some of my favorite quotes:
James’ Father – “Straighten up son, they’ll think you’re a nancy boy.”
Hanna – “Tsk, tsk, tsk…”
James – “No, I just directed the first two, the others were done by hacks.”
Hanna – “How are you feeling Mr. Jimmy? How is your mind today?”
James – “My mind is lovely. And yours?”
Clay – “No … I mean, you don’t want to draw pictures of me in my birthday suit, do you?”
James – “I have no interest in your body, Mr. Boone.”
James – “Oh pish-post I’m not your Aunt Tillie.”
James – “Hatred was the only thing that kept my soul alive.”
Betty – “All right then, he’s only interested in you for your conversation. We all know what a great talker you are.”
Harry – “Sick stuff … necrophilia.”
Clay – “The monster’s lonely. He wants a friend. A girlfriend, somebody. What’s so sick about that?”
Hanna – “Ugh … I’m sorry Mr. Jimmy, your movie is not my teacup.”
Clay – “Any jerk with a gun can kill someone.”
Clay – “I am not your monster.”
James – “You’re a bloody pussycat.”
Following is additional information about the movie that contains spoilers. If you don’t want to be spoiled don’t read any further.
I love how Clay relates to the Frankenstein monster. He is lonely himself and people also perceive him in a certain way because of his appearance. They don’t take the time to really get to know him. When they laugh at him or hurt his feelings he lashes out in anger. There are a lot of parallels between them.
It really is foreshadowing when James becomes so curious about Clay being a marine during the Korean War. He is very fixated on whether Clay had killed anyone before. James wants Clay to be his “monster”.
Wow, how intense, when James is doing everything he can to push Clay and make him angry enough to kill him. I understand why he wants to die, but what a terrible thing to do to someone. Clay is just devastated, he thought James was his friend.