After making her name in fluff (for better or worse) for years, Elisabeth Shue broke through with the "career-changing revelation" (as Vogue put it) of her Oscar-nominated performance in 1995's Leaving Las Vegas. While her career might have changed for the better, Shue's performances changed for the worse, embarrassing herself in the likes of The Saint and Palmetto. John Duigan's Molly, with the Oscar-baiting arc of its title character, is obviously designed to show off more of Shue's acting chops. Instead, it just shows that Leaving Las Vegas may have been a fluke.
As Molly McKay, Shue is called on to cover a wide acting spectrum. For half of the film, Shue has to act as if she had the mind of a child, for Molly is mentally challenged; for the other, after Molly receives miracle surgical treatment that awakens her mental capacities, Shue has to be an innocent yet observant and energetic naif. She fails miserably on both counts. She yelps, grunts, mumbles, jumps, screeches, and mugs to no end as Molly#1; as Molly#2, she's just as jumpy but with eyes perpetually wide and a chirpy, singsong voice. Neither portrayal resembles any actual, non-acted human behavior, whether or not the person is mentally challenged or not.
Shue's performance is just one of this unconvincing, uninvolving film. Dick Christie's script is a hodgepodge of elements from Awakenings and Rain Man, an analogy that actually makes the film seem better than it is. If you've seen either of those films, you will know every turn of the plot, right down to the ending, well before they come. But aside from not coming up with anything slightly original in the main story, Christie doesn't come up with a single satisfactory subplot. A romance between Molly's well-meaning but selfish brother Buck (Aaron Eckhart, doing a nice job--the only person who does so--in a change of pace, non-sleazy role) and Molly's doctor (Jill Hennessy) is spoken of but never shown. Come to think of it, that's the only attempt at a subplot Christie and Duigan make.
In their defense, though, Molly has been trimmed down to a remarkably slim 89 minutes from the 100something-minute run time of its original cut, which played on airlines this summer before its fall theatrical release. Even so, the fact that there are only 89 of them doesn't make any of those minutes any less tedious, and 89 minutes of Shue's strained Acting display is 89 more than anyone should ever have to endure.
RATING: * 1/2 (out of *****)
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