Premiering Saturday, The Girl is the first of two high-profile biopics of the master filmmaker to hit screens this season. The other, simply titled Hitchcock, is a larger-budget feature with a whiff of Oscar bait, yet there’s room enough for both. While that forthcoming film focuses on the making of 1960’s Psycho, The Girl concerns itself with the pair of pictures that teamed Hitch with Hedren — 1963’s The Birds and the following year’s Marnie — and the resulting obsession for her that grew within him.
Almost from the start, Hitch (Toby Jones, The Hunger Games) begins mistreating Hedren (Miller, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) after plucking the model and single mom from obscurity to headline his eagerly awaited Psycho follow-up. It begins with comments about her weight and reciting X-rated limericks to embarrass her, but his harassment escalates to throwing himself on her and, perhaps in retaliation for being rebuffed, subjecting her to five days of being pelted with live birds.
And that’s just from the first picture!
Like a character from one of his own films — Norman Bates comes to mind — Hitch’s fixation with her strikes one not just inappropriate, given his longtime marriage to Alma (Imelda Staunton, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1), but downright ill. In a voice that’s dead-on Hitch, Jones plays it with more pity than menace. In a role that’s less showy by design, but more difficult of the two, Miller excels as much as the underwritten script allows her to, disappearing into the part so smoothly, you forget you’re watching Miller play Hedren — she seems to be Hedren.
Based on Donald Spoto’s 2008 book, Spellbound by Beauty, the telepic from director Julian Jarrold (Red Riding Trilogy) works at too languid a pace to be as engaging as expected. It’s also too obtuse at times when it should be clear; having read Spoto’s work was a benefit for me going into The Girl. (More casual Hitch fans should have no problem spotting Jarrold’s clever visual nods to Psycho and Vertigo.)
But for those who relish a good behind-the-scenes Hollywood tale, ultimately decent is good enough reason to tune in. —Rod Lott