We’ve reached the point in this miserable culture where everyone including the very smart actor Dev Patel hears the words “David Copperfield” and thinks it’s the Las Vegas magician. Patel, star of the wonderful new “Personal History of David Copperfield” said as much last night on stage at the Princess of Wales Theater in Toronto after Armando Iannucci’s film debuted at the Toronto Film Festival.
Just about everyone in the audience and onstage felt that way, too.
Thank goodness for Iannucci, the creator of “Veep” and the director great satires like “In the Loop” and “The Death of Stalin,” knew better. He said he read Charles Dickens’ 900 page novel and immediately decided to make a film that emphasized, not cut out, the humor in the story of an orphaned lad from a classy background who is dumped into the real world and must make it on his own.
Iannucci’s version of “DC” is so splendid, fun, layered, and smart that I urge Fox Searchlight to issue it in time for the Oscars rather than waste it next winter. Iannucci’s movie is destined to be a masterpiece I think, it’s so fresh and unique, able to entertain on many levels at once. It’s actually a very subversive family film, perfect for the holidays.
There’s a little Monty Python and a lot of the Marx Brothers, even some Buster Keaton, as Iannucci and his team deconstruct David’s crusade to become something other than what people project on him. As he continually reminds everyone around him, “I am David Copperfield!” and not the myriad personas his various new friends assign him.
After his single mother is overtaken by a greedy, stupid husband (and his sister, played gloriously by Gwendolyn Christie), David is sent to work with other child laborers in a bottle factory in London. He’s taken in by a colorful, eccentric poor couple, the Micwabers (Iannucci regular Peter Capaldi, Bronagh Gallagher) who kick off what you could call a super contest for Best Supporting actors.
Just about overtaking them in this spirit are Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie as David’s nutty rich aunt and her own daffy cousin, Mr Dick. again, how to choose who gets what award? They are all so deeply enjoyable and genuinely funny, it’s hard to say. Into this mix comes Ben Whishaw, playing the timeless villain Uriah Heep with such glee there’s mayhem in his eyes. These people must have had a dangerously good time on the set, and it’s all conveyed here.
“David Copperfield” is just a delight, and will pick up awards attention not just for the actors, the precisely constructed script, and directing, but all below the line categories as well. There are magical moments of production design, editing and cinematography that would make Las Vegas’s Copperfield jealous. And don’t discount Dev Patel, who started with us on “Slumdog Millionaire” more than a decade ago and has never let up being ingratiating and a pleasure to watch on screen. He makes it look easy. Bravo to him!