Is it a film about a movie or a movie about a film? This is the kind of conundrum that rose in my wandering mind as I struggled to stay awake in the chilly theater. What does the fat suit look like, under Anthony Hopkins’ clothes? Do facial prosthetics hurt?
One of the problems with making films or fictions about the lives of great artists is that most of them aren’t as interesting as their work. The writers of this screenplay dealt with this problem by squeezing blood, as it were, from a stone. There is the obligatory conflict between the director and the studio: Paramount doesn’t want to make the movie Psycho because it’s got a trashy premise. So the Hitchcocks (Mrs., played by Helen Mirren) mortgage their house to bankroll the film. Of course, we all know that Psycho will be made, and that it will be a big success, so where’s the tension in that? There’s an awkwardly mechanical subplot in which Hitchcock becomes obsessed with the murdered Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), whose stories was one of the inspirations for the novel Psycho, on which Hitchcock based his screenplay. You guessed it: the dead murder haunts Hitchcock, who, for plot purposes, identifies with and is inspired by him. And then there are Hitchcock’s childish infatuations with his female stars. Worse, there’s the limp marital drama in which Hitchcock’s wife, director and screenwriter, Alma Reville, feels undervalued and overshadowed blah blah blah and has an affair of the mind with another screenwriter. Of course she rallies, returns to the Psycho nest, and saves the day. Spoiler alert: Psycho is a success. They get to keep their fancy fifties Hollywood house and pool. In the hokey climax scene, Hitchcock stands outside the theater during its first screening and “conducts” an invisible orchestra to the sounds of thrilled screaming inside the theater. Cut to the ecstatic, horrified faces of the audience, and back to Hitchcock conducting, and again. In the chilly theater in Ambler, PA, I was jealous of those people.
At one point during the movie (film?) Hitchcock’s agent, Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg) suggests that the Psycho would be more wisely relegated to a 2-part TV show. And then I realized: that would have been a good solution to this snoozer.