October 1, 2023



Review of ‘North Star’: Scarlett Johansson Stars in a Cozy Mother-Daughter Tale, Directed by Kristin Scott Thomas

Review of ‘North Star’: Scarlett Johansson Stars in a Cozy Mother-Daughter Tale, Directed by Kristin Scott Thomas

Additionally, Sienna Miller and Emily Beecham join the cast of the comic-drama making its debut at the Toronto Film Festival.

In Kristin Scott Thomas’ directorial debut, the film boasts exquisite production design by the renowned Andrew McAlpine, known for his work on Jane Campion’s “The Piano” in the past. Scott Thomas also takes on the role of Diana, a woman about to embark on her third marriage, prompting her daughters – the star-studded trio of Scarlett Johansson, Sienna Miller, and Emily Beecham – to return home for the wedding. And what a home it is! A charming English country cottage, adorned with vibrant walls or botanical-themed wallpapers in every room, adorned with hanging vines and surrounded by a sprawling green lawn. It’s not merely a compliment, but rather an acknowledgment that the film’s aesthetic is one of its most immediately captivating aspects, contributing significantly to the warm and inviting atmosphere of this delightful story.

Regrettably, the screenplay penned by Scott Thomas in collaboration with journalist John Micklethwaite falls short of its potential. Laden with overly familiar tropes, “North Star” comes across as a diluted iteration of Richard Curtis’ charming and polished comic dramas, albeit lacking the razor-sharp wit found in Curtis’ dialogue. Nevertheless, there are still many redeeming qualities in this heartwarming narrative centered around a family of adults reconciling with their relationships and their shared history.

In the opening scenes, we are introduced to Johansson’s character, Katherine, a disciplined captain in the British Royal Navy (complete with an English accent). She’s purposefully ignoring urgent texts from her partner, Jack. Beecham portrays Georgina, a nurse who is riddled with insecurity and suspects her husband of infidelity. Miller, on the other hand, embodies the confident middle sister, Victoria, a renowned actress residing in the United States, with a trail of former lovers in her wake. To convey the family’s backstory, Victoria employs a somewhat clumsy narrative device while recounting her family’s history on a talk show. Their mother’s first husband, a military pilot and the father of Katherine and Victoria lost his life in the Falklands War. Diana, their mother, then married his best friend, another pilot, and Georgina’s father, who tragically died in Bosnia, leaving Diana to raise their three young daughters.

There’s a personal resonance in this narrative that sheds light on how Scott Thomas infuses such intimacy into her performance. Her own mother’s life mirrors this tale, with her first husband, a pilot, passing away, followed by her marriage to another pilot who also met a tragic end five years later. The film is dedicated to “In Memory of My Fathers.”

Actors who transition into directing often excel in working with their fellow actors, and Scott Thomas is no exception. Johansson, Miller, and Beecham convincingly portray the sisters, despite the differences in their characters. All three deliver their roles with a sense of naturalness and a deep underlying affection within the family that may remain unspoken but is unmistakably present.

This family is quite assertive. Victoria takes it upon herself to hire an investigator to tail Georgina’s husband without seeking her sister’s approval. Diana, in her motherly wisdom, advises Katherine to wed Jack, a desire he has harbored for quite some time, especially as Katherine spends extended periods at sea, leaving him to care for their young son.

However, the family’s unique qualities are somewhat diluted by predictable scenarios, including an outdoor wedding dinner and mischievous antics involving Diana’s grandsons. While Kristin Scott Thomas demonstrates her confident direction, Yves Belanger’s vibrant cinematography, and Joan Sobel’s elegant editing make the film easy to immerse oneself in, it seldom delivers surprising twists.

The film attempts to introduce some unexpected elements but doesn’t quite succeed. For instance, a wealthy man pursuing Victoria, humorously dubbed “Le Grand Fromage,” disrupts the wedding by landing a helicopter on the lawn, though his presence doesn’t significantly enhance the narrative. Jack’s character takes an unforeseen turn, and the urgency of his need to speak with Katherine doesn’t lead to the impending breakup we anticipate. Instead, a far-fetched plot twist emerges as the real reason, diminishing the film’s effectiveness.

In due course, the film builds up to significant emotional confrontations. The sisters engage in heated arguments, finally releasing years of pent-up guilt, resentment, and long-held secrets. Kristin Scott Thomas, who has gracefully glided through the narrative, is given a powerful and beautifully written scene toward the film’s conclusion, which ranks among its finest moments. Diana, in this poignant moment, urges her daughters to mature and cease idealizing their fathers, who, in their memories, remain frozen in a state of perfect youth. As the film progresses, its underlying themes of time, memory, and the struggle to come to terms with the past come to the forefront.

Kristin Scott Thomas first gained recognition in Richard Curtis’ “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” which could be a mere coincidence rather than a reason for the film’s adept blending of drama, comedy, and genuine warmth toward its characters. Regardless, Curtis serves as an admirable role model. “North Star” may not attain extraordinary status, but it accomplishes the significant feat of creating a cinematic world that beckons the audience to step into it and spend time there.

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Ralph Calaway