“Lizzie” Swings and Misses

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We found ourselves mostly disappointed by the much-hyped Lifetime movie Lizzie Borden Took an Axe staring Christina Ricci as the titular (accused but acquitted) axe murderer. We can be forgiven for having had high hopes. The promotional campaign seemed to promise a Sy Fy network style camp-fest, as did the very title of the film (drawn from the macabre children’s nursery rhyme) and the casting of Ricci herself, who is the wrong physical type for Lizzie but has the virtue of having played Wednesday Addams. Ricci’s performance seemed to dearly want to pull the film in that vastly more entertaining direction, presenting Lizzie as a sort of vacant, terrifying psychopath with manipulative and even incestuous tendencies. A couple of her takes and moments in the film are priceless.

Unfortunately the filmmakers themselves seem to hedge on their own premise, and all the elements surrounding Ricci scream “typical boring historical tv movie” full of trite, earnest performances, on the nose dialogue, and feeble production values. The worst moment for me was the synthesized vaguely “old timey” music playing at some party Lizzie attends after she’s acquitted. Is it supposed to be the 1890s? The 1920s?  Live? On a gramophone? It doesn’t matter — no such music as that ever existed on this earth in any of those decades or from any earthly source. Far more egregious was the 80’s sounding swamp-blues-rock soundtrack, far more appropriate for a spring break wet tee shirt contest than the Borden story. This seems to have been a gesture in the direction of irony or camp but it falls majorly flat. When people like Baz Lurman use modern music in a period story, it works because the selections resonate with some aspect of the yarn: geography, atmosphere, the spirit of the times? The music in this film vaguely suggests “crime” (I guess) but contains strong cultural associations with…I would have to say, every time and place in America OTHER than Massachusetts in 1891. While, the movie is weak, the ineptitude of the music made me actively hate it. That, and the fact that no one in the movie actually talks like they’re from Massachusetts. And for that, I’m sure the people of Massachusetts are very grateful.

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