A dry portrayal of the life of celebrated poet Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow), "Sylvia" is melancholy to a dismaying degree; while it's certainly true that the poet was troubled and unhappy, the the film tends to go over the fact that she was troubled and unhappy, rather than what inspired her work. The result is a film with satisfactory performances and some enjoyable moments, but a flat, occasionally tedious pace. The film is also restricted by the fact that Plath's daughter refused to cooperate with the film, not allowing the filmmakers access to any of Plath's work.
The film opens with Sylvia meeting fellow poet Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig) at a party in Cambridge and, eventually, getting married to him. The two venture off to America with the promise of teaching jobs, but find that they aren't getting any work done, a condition that continues upon the birth of their child. Then, Plath finds out that her husband is having an affair, a fact she is barely able to cope with.
Without any of the poet's poetry within the film and without the assistance of the remaining family, the picture often seems like a checklist of melancholy events instead of an informative biopic that is larger in scope. Upon starting the film, I knew little about the life of Sylvia Plath. Upon finishing the film...pretty much the same status. The film focuses on what little story it apparently was allowed to (100 minutes isn't much time to tell anything but a compressed tale), but never really gets into the minds of the characters, or develops them in a compelling way.
That's not to say that the performances aren't good. Paltrow offers an emotional, nuanced effort that clearly captures the poet's passion, as well as her instability. I really can't say this is her best work, but it's not bad, either. Daniel Craig is effective as Hughes, while Michael Gambon is enjoyable as Plath's neighbor. Gambon's character provides the film's few moments of very welcome humor. Gabriel Yared’s orchestral score tries to pull an emotional response out of a tale that's mostly presented dryly.
Overall, I just felt as if this was too somber and restrained a film, not really attempting to do anything but present a seemingly limited look at this artist's life. Largely subdued aside from Paltrow's performance, I didn't learn much and I didn't find myself very involved.
VIDEO: Universal presents "Sylvia" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Some scenes look terrific during this mostly excellent transfer, but other sequences are taken down a notch by some noticable issues. Sharpness and detail are largely quite good, as fine details are clearly visible in most outdoor scenes, while shadow detail is satisfactory.
While most of the film remained free of any issues, slight compression artifacts appeared in some dimly-lit sequences. Mild edge enhancement also appeared in some scenes, although most scenes were free of it. The print was visibly pristine for the majority, but a couple of little specks were noticed once or twice.
The film's natural, warm lighting and color palette were largely well-presented. Colors appeared natural and nicely saturated, with no smearing or other issues. Overall, this is a very enjoyable transfer that handles most of the film quite well, but falls short during some moments.
SOUND: Universal presents "Sylvia" in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is a completely dialogue-driven feature, with little in the way of surround use aside from some slight reinforcement of the music and maybe a bit of ambience here-and-there. Dialogue and music are well-recorded, but, as one might expect, nothing about this soundtrack is particularly dynamic.
EXTRAS: The film's theatrical trailer - that's it, that's all. Given the fact that the family did not want to cooperate with the filmmakers, it's not unexpected that there's no additional materials to be found here regarding the poet.
Final Thoughts: Passable but often dull, Paltrow tries her hardest to create a portrait of an artist the screenplay doesn't seem to be able to tell that much about or try to understand in greater detail. Universal's DVD edition provides fine audio/video quality, but next-to-nothing in the way of supplements. Maybe a rental.
The Film **