Saturday, June 15, 2024

Must See: Sensational, Hilarious “Personal History of David Copperfield” from “Veep” Creator Drops in 1300 Theaters


Armando Iannucci’s hilarious and wonderful “Personal History of David Copperfield” opens tomorrow in 1300 theaters. Where? Not in New York or New Jersey except maybe at a drive in. But everywhere else, somewhere, you’ll see it advertised. Put on mask, a shield, whatever and GO. You will not regret it. Dev Patel is just terrific in the title role. The whole cast is great. It would be a shame if this film was squandered.

Disney’s Searchlight is releasing it, but last year “David Copperfield” premiered the Toronto Film Festival. So much has changed since then! Searchlight used to be Fox. Toronto used to be a festival. In the intervening year, not a single person has called me about this movie. But here’s my report from last September.

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!

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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