The fact that Matthew Goode hasn’t won or been nominated for a major award before his stint on The Crown is baffling to me. The actor has been breaking hearts and burning up the screen with charisma, charm, and pure talent since he broke onto the movie scene in 2004’s Chasing Liberty. Chasing Liberty was pure, unadulterated fluff. Birthmarked, Goode’s latest film, is the complete opposite. A dark comedy that is more drama and sadness than comedy, Birthmarked is a very strange beast. One thing’s for certain, however, Goode is a damn good actor.
Birthmarked’s premise is a strange one and is perhaps the most unique premise I’ve seen in a while. Ben (Goode) and Catherine (Toni Collette) are scientists in the 1970s who fell in love over research and got married and decided to take on a little experiment. Ben and Catherine approach a financer, a shady fellow named Gertz (Michael Smiley), to help them adopt two children: one from a dimwitted family and one from an angry family. The third child in their experiment will be their own. Together, with the help of a former Russian athlete (Andreas Apergis), Ben and Catherine attempt to raise the children against their biological and genetic dispositions. Does it work? No. Do Ben and Catherine learn more about themselves and the importance of family? Yes. It’s a great morality lesson, but it isn’t a good science experiment.
It’s also not the greatest movie in the world either. It tries but Birthmarked never lives up to the potential it has. Granted, the trailer focused more on the children. The story is really about Ben and Catherine and not the children at all.
Ben and Catherine are a strange pair. Ben has a weird horse fetish. Catherine is hot-headed and emotional where Ben is logical and scientifically driven. The children, Lucas, Maya, and Maurice, just want to be children, plain old, normal children. They can’t because they’re guinea pigs. It’s a messed up family unit. Somehow it works until it doesn’t. The story loses its focus, I feel, when it shifts to the children. This is wholeheartedly Ben and Catherine’s story about morality, love, and science. Sometimes, I feel like they were short-shifted just to shoehorn the children into the plot.
Goode is a revelation as Ben. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen much of his filmography but he really killed it. Neurotic, unhinged, yet still deeply in love with his wife and children. It was interesting seeing Goode in a role that is different than normal. He still played the character humorously, as he does in a lot of his other films I’ve seen, but there is an inherent tenderness there when push comes to shove. Collette was just as brilliant. She dominated the screen and she made it hard to take my eyes off the movie.
Despite the killer performances, though, Birthmarked wasn’t anything to write home about. Of course, the uniqueness of the story and the premise is enough to laud but other than that, it was a film that really doesn’t deserve more than one viewing.
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