Nell (1994)

MICHAEL APTED

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB. 

USA, 1994.  Egg Pictures, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox.  Screenplay by , , based on the play Idioglossia by Mark Handley.  Cinematography by .  Produced by , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 1994.  Golden Globe Awards 1994.   New York Film Critics 1994.  

Jodie Foster gives an endearing performance in this half-baked drama about a backwoods wild child who is discovered by a psychiatrist (Liam Neeson) after her mother dies.  Foster was raised in complete seclusion and, thanks to her mother’s crippling stroke, has never learned to speak properly; as a result, Nell expresses herself in a childlike mishmash of English words and completely made-up ones, marking her as something of an anthropological find for her community. Neeson brings in a big-city doctor (, who married Neeson shortly after this movie was made) to help him observe Nell and decide what should be done about her. In the process, they learn much about each other and themselves through their relationship with her. The power of the innocent helps the misguided cityfolk blah blah blah—it’s easy to see where it goes from there: of course it boils down to a melodramatic courtroom scene complete with tear-inducing confessional by the idioglossiatic superstar. Foster is marvelous, more personal than she’s ever been on screen, but as producer of the film she should have fought for a better script. Neeson, on the other hand, is completely unbearable, playing a repugnantly moralistic character with all the pretentiousness he can possibly muster.

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