Posted by: jt | July 21, 2010

turn her down the rocky road

Fair warning: inevitable (though not devastating) spoilers for the movie mentioned. It’s really not a movie review. It’s really not.

I (finally) picked up a copy of Sherlock Holmes last week and…I haven’t seen a reason to rein in my capacity for repetition. We’re not going to bother trying to count the number of times over the last week that I’ve watched Robert Downey Jr. strum a violin in frustration and pratfall his way through a shipyard. (Shades of Chaplin, fangirls?)

Before we delve into things, I must say, this exchange ranks within at least the top ten of my all time favorite movie quotes:

Watson: Holmes, does your depravity know no bounds?
Holmes: No.

For my tastes, Guy Ritchie’s incarnation of Sherlock Holmes is like candy. It’s fun, quick, and a happy balance between action and bantering boys. In all fairness, I’m not a Holmes connoisseur. I might have read a story or two as a kid and I have vague recollections of enjoying Young Sherlock Holmes but that’s about it, so I was never going to be this movie’s harshest critic. (Fear not, the mythical MacGyver movie will get a thorough and passionate fisking.)

Much as I enjoy it, Sherlock has a few continuity issues that make me want to smack the editor. Post-explosion Holmes has a scratch on his forehead that can’t seem to stay put and Watson’s left ear heals just [ahem] a bit faster than one might find plausible. Candles are replaced with pitchers. A rope twisted around a leg becomes a knotted rope, and then magically disappears all together but…really, these are qualms I’m only even bothering to mention because, dammit, it’s Sherlock Holmes. We’re not 15 minutes in before the man himself tells us, “In fact, the little details are by far the most important.”

In this case, they’re really not and I’m thoroughly charmed by this film, including most of its little details. What grates on my nerves is a problem so huge and endemic that it seemingly doesn’t occur to anyone involved in the film that it’s an issue. The three man characters here are Holmes, Watson, and Irene Adler – a woman with whom Holmes has a complicated history. A past.

Suspension of disbelief isn’t a challenge for me. I’m usually perfectly willing to look the other way for pleasure’s sake. But Robert Downey Jr. (Holmes) and Rachel McAdams (Adler) having history?

Did he baby-sit?

Downey is lovely. He’s smokin’ hot in this film (hello, handcuffs) and, personally, I love the flecks of grey in his sideburns and mottling the scruff on his face.

Mmmm. Scruff.

He, happily, looks every one of his 40+ years in this movie. And why shouldn’t he? He’s hot, fit and he’s playing a character who’s hot, fit, not sleeping enough, drinking too much, smoking too much, doing too much of things that would rate higher than PG-13…Downey looks like a man with experience and the fact that his forehead is lined adds to instead of detracting from both performance and appeal.

Rachel McAdams delivers a fine performance as Irene Adler, but it just never stands a chance of reaching believable. This is Holmes’ muse…the woman who haunts him – taunts him. She’s the one that got away, who he couldn’t have, who out-played him and, in this film, she returns.

And she looks about 25.

To be fair, Rachel McAdams is in her early 30s, but she’s playing a character who (according to fannish claims which, as a fangirl, I trust) is supposed to be older than Holmes. At the very least, they’re peers. McAdams is the woman who, four years prior to playing a character-with-a-past with Downey, filmed as the meanest of all high school brats in Mean Girls alongside Lindsay Lohan. And her high school meanness was believable.

I’m not a stickler for actors only playing characters their own age and I’m not trying to pigeonhole Rachel McAdams, but a little plausibility goes an awfully long way. She’s just not old enough to have history with Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes. Maybe in ten years.

I mentioned my annoyance to some friends and, naturally, the immediate pushback was, if not her, who? My standard favorite for women’s roles – for women not girls – is Emma Thompson. She’s just brilliant, smart, subtle, funny and she’s Emma Fucking Thompson, bitches. Bring it.

Imagine having Emma Thompson to play off the intensity that Robert Downey Jr. brings to a scene. He’s a generous actor – sharing the scenes with McAdams he could have easily stolen – and I can’t help but think that Emma Thompson would have truly sparked against him as the smart, sexy, experienced woman who bested the smart, sexy, experienced man.

This isn’t (just) a plea for MOAR EMMA THOMPSON (though, really). The more I thought about it, the more irritated I got that the rich character of Irene Adler has effectively been reduced to a pretty face. The character isn’t written particularly badly, but in over your head, Irene plays out more like being young and naïve than being simply outmatched by an übervillian. Perhaps McAdams is partially to blame for a too-modern performance, but I think she’s just miscast.

There are countless women who could have brought a presence to the role that McAdams, looking more like an eager co-ed playing dress-up than an experienced, globe-trotting thief, just couldn’t deliver. Mariska Hargitay, Téa Leoni, Famke Janssen, Juliette Binoche, Maria Bello, Mary Louise Parker…any of them would have immediately had more credibility as Irene Adler, simply because you don’t have to view Holmes as a pedophile in order to conceive of a past. Yes – women in their 40s. They do exist on screen. My beloved Emma Thompson is  – gasp – 51.

I doubt there was anything sinister or intentional in casting someone more than ten years younger than Downey as his past love interest (fourteen years, if you’re counting). Sherlock is, after all, a Guy Ritchie movie and if anyone knows that women in their 40s – and 50s – can hold their own against someone significantly younger, I’m fairly certain Madonna’s ex can attest. No, I’m confident that when casting Adler, it never occurred to people to consider a woman in the same age range as Holmes.

Which is, of course, the real problem.



  1. Nice use of pratfall!

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