Review: The BFG

Score: C-

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Ruby Barnhill, Mark Rylance, Jemaine Clement, Penelope Wilton

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rated: PG

If you’re looking for a summer movie in which the Queen of England suffers uncontrollable flatulence, The BFG is for you.

For everyone else, there’s not much to recommend here. It’s Spielberg’s weakest movie since Hook. Like that film, it tries to give some adult resonance to a children’s story but fails at both.

Ruby Barnhill, in her film debut, is as adorable as child actors come, and her vivid imagination recalls Roald Dahl’s other heroine Matilda. She’s an orphan who believes in magic, despite her bleak life. But she’s captured almost instantly by the BFG (played by Oscar winner Mark Rylance, who’s terrific). There’s no time for her to develop as a character. We are just supposed to be instantly taken with her, without the movie earning any of that attachment.

Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison didn’t have this problem when they collaborated on E.T., which remains the gold standard for movies about lonely kids bonding with fantastical creatures. That bond was incredibly strong and felt very real.

But the core of The BFG never quite gets there. Instead of serving as a springboard for deeper themes, this is a movie that’s faithful to a fault. Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers took the 40 pages of Where the Wild Things Are and spun it into a heartbreaking coming-of-age story. But this movie has no such lofty ambitions.

By the time the film moves from Giant Country to the actual Buckingham Palace, where the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and many of her staff find themselves in serious need of some Gas-X, the movie has descended into grab of crude jokes and weak slapstick. While the kids in the audience found the breakfast scene delightful, I found it grinded the film to a screeching halt. And the film’s bombastic climax is extremely brief. By this point, it’s been non-stop CGI. Only a handful of human actors ever even appear on the screen. Of course, effects-heavy movies can be truly moving, but that connection has to be there. And unlike the BFG himself, it’s not strong.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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