blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Elizabeth Is Missing (2019, Aisling Walsh)

I’m not sure what I thought Elizabeth Is Missing was going to be—I only half read a description—but when it became clear Glenda Jackson’s character (not Elizabeth) would be searching for that character (played by Maggie Steed) but also Jackson having Alzheimer’s and also sort of live action flashbacks with her younger self… Well, I hoped they weren’t going to do a Memento where the gimmick was someone’s Alzheimer’s.

My hope was not realized. Elizabeth Is Missing is indeed a ninety-ish minute pseudo-mystery where there’s no mystery it’s just Jackson’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse and she’s having a lot of bad memory triggers. Jackson not understanding what’s going on is director Walsh, screenwriter Andrea Gibb, and presumably source novelist Emma Healey’s gimmick. Jackson can’t remember the really important parts of the plot so we discover them late, creating opportunity for Jackson to experience realizing she’s not remembering something and consequently having a trauma.

So while Jackson’s really good, it’s by definition exploitative. Like. Dementia advisor or not; the plot itself is inherently exploitative.

Bummer, I guess? In hindsight—you know, if you went through and looked for all the signs Bruce Willis was a ghost, which I’m sure you can—it’s probably inevitable it’s going to fail. The scant subplot about Jackson’s daughter, Helen Behan (who should talk to her agent about better parts), being exhausted with having to care for an ailing parent while her older brother and the prize child (Sam Hazeldine) occasionally Skypes from Germany and is no help… they definitely could’ve done it better. I just hadn’t realized it was them doing it the best they could.

Because Jackson’s really good and you’re really invested in her and flipping it to make her an unreliable narrator and a pitiable subject… it’s really unfortunate. And a waste of Jackson’s time. There’s a far better movie in granddaughter Nell Williams and Jackson, I don’t know, going to the library for ninety minutes in real time than there is in a Double MacGuffin with Cheese murder mystery.

The flashbacks are all about young Jackson—played by Liv Hill—and her missing sister Sophie Rundle, which has all sorts of analogues with missing best friend Steed. It also has the memory loss MacGuffin being the only part because there’s no character development for young Hill. And there’s also a deus ex machina? Because it’s really lazy and a waste of everyone’s time.

Kind of good music from Dominik Scherrer; like a horror movie score but he never leans into it enough.

But no. They can’t even manage to give Jackson a good part by the end of it. Once they’ve made all the reveals, the filmmakers have no enthusiasm for the finish. Behan and Williams have some good moments—though Williams’s are a lot less problematic than Behan’s—otherwise the supporting cast is middling.

It’s a strange, unfortunate ninety minutes.

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