By Steve Greene | Criticwire February 19, 2014 at 11:46AM
More and more films premiere on Video on Demand -- if they don't simply bypass a theatrical release altogether. Because VOD reviews are often scarce and hard to find, Criticwire created VODetails, a recurring column to help you figure out whether a new VOD release is worth your hard-earned dollar. This time we're looking at "Reaching for the Moon," a decades-spanning historical drama, not the first part of a film trilogy based on inspirational quotes that also includes "So Even If You Fall" and "You'll Land Among the Stars."
Director: Bruno Barreto
Cast: Miranda Otto, Gloria Pires, Tracy Middendorf, Marcello Airoldi, Marcio Ehrlich and Treat Williams
Criticwire Average: B+ (4 critics)
Official Synopsis: "Seasoned Brazilian helmer Bruno Barreto brings to life 1950s Rio in this beautifully drawn tale of poet Elizabeth Bishop and her love affair with architect Lota de Macedo Soares, the designer of Rio’s famed Flamengo Park. Based on the bestselling Brazilian novel Rare and Commonplace Flowers, the film follows Bishop as a creative block prompts her to accept the invitation of a college friend to stay with her and her partner, Lota, on a sprawling country estate. Quintessentially American Bishop is a fish out of water in her new lush and bohemian setting, until the instant chemistry between her and Lota boils over. (Tribeca Film Festival)"
The increased focus on the central relationship puts extra focus on the two leads, and The Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young argues that they handle their roles adeptly:
"It would be hard to find two more contrasting actresses than Otto and Pires, but Barreto plays off their differences in culture and personality. Perhaps best known as a super-star of Rede Globo telenovelas, Gloria Pires (in her first English language role) holds back nothing in an enjoyably dynamic portrait of the ill-fated architect who wants it all, and for a while really has it. The more interiorized performance of Miranda Otto...is a constant surprise as she broadens her cultural horizons and spreads her artistic wings, pulled back to earth time and again by her alcohol dependence, yet courageously surviving."
Bishop isn't the conventional, free-spirit American artist some biopic fans might be accustomed to, and Eric D. Snider points out at About.com that the film largely follows her initial, reserved spirit:
"Showing emotion is hard for her, more so when she's surrounded by vibrant, outgoing types. And so the movie, too, is restrained and muted, handling its stormy and passionate material with such delicacy that you long for some a moment or two of crassness, just to liven things up."
"In their 15-year affair Barreto locates the heart of his drama, but, alas, the clichés of the form win out. Poetry refracts life; this film can only reflect it, and tritely at that."
"If nothing else, 'Reaching for the Moon' is a feast for fans of mid-century modern design. The bold and sleekly minimalist interiors, the tailored, feminine dresses, everything down to the tea sets is carefully chosen and classically stylish – as if an entire film had been set inside a Design Within Reach store."
Diego Costa puts forth the idea in his Slant Magazine review that that "Reaching for the Moon" excels when highlighting Bishop's transcendent talent and the creation of some of her best-known work, but the film doesn't always stick to its strengths:
"In a few scenes, Reaching for the Moon manages to achieve something quite brilliant. It translates Bishop's process of crafting a poem—as an overwhelming rush and an orgasmic game of associations—through beautifully paced editing and Otto's outstanding performance. The story of Bishop and Macedo's ultimately tragic love affair is itself remarkable, in the way that it enmeshes with and even helps shape an extremely delicate period in Brazilian history filled with coups d’état. But Barreto's insistence that this pass for a product that Hollywood might have spawned smoothens a journey built on sharp edges."
"For both women, however, creative success arrives at a significant psychological cost: As Bishop tumbles into alcoholism, and Lota into depression, their relationship never recovers. The film, too, takes a turn for the worse; at its most engaging when documenting the odd couple’s spiky courtship, it eventually falls into the shapeless, episodic structure of all too many biopics."
"Reaching for the Moon" is now available on iTunes, Amazon and other streaming services.