Madame Bovary movie review: why woman why cry?

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

Madame Bovary red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A cold, sterile film, bereft of the spirit and danger Gustave Flaubert’s groundbreaking novel demands.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Mia Wasikowska
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s kind of ironic, but if you want a sense of the stifling, dull life young Emma Bovary desires escape from, in her early-18th-century rural French countryside, this rendition of Gustave Flaubert’s groundbreaking novel Madame Bovary does a pretty good — if unintentional — job of it. Not even the awesome Mia Wasikowska (Maps to the Stars) can save this tepid and charmless adaptation, from director Sophie Barthes, which is a real shame, because it’s a wonderful classic tale of how the things the world told (and still tells) women we should be happy with — a reliable husband; a nice home — simply aren’t enough for women of intelligence and ambition of their own. But we never get a true sense of Emma’s brains or passion, or even that the dissatisfaction of her marriage to not-very-capable country doctor Charles (Henry Lloyd-Hughes: Man Up) is made up for by her affairs with dreamy student Leon (Ezra Miller: City Island) or rich bastard Marquis D’Andervilliers (Logan Marshall-Green: As I Lay Dying). This Emma is more petulant child than untamed wild woman, and the film is tepid where it should be torrid. One highlight is Rhys Ifans (Serena) as the cunning merchant who seduces Emma into credit and debt in order to finance the high life she thinks she wants, but mostly this is a cold, sterile film, bereft of the spirit and danger the story demands.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Madame Bovary for its representation of girls and women.

share and enjoy
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll, anti-abuse measure. If your comment is not spam, trollish, or abusive, it will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately. (Further comments may still be deleted if spammy, trollish, or abusive, and continued such behavior will get your account deleted and banned.)
notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
Hank Graham
Hank Graham
Thu, Jun 11, 2015 6:48pm

Two quick thoughts about this film, which I’ve decided not to see:

I’ve always hated the book. Emma’s problem, to me, has always been that she’s more a petulant child than untamed wild woman. I came away feeling that Flaubert hated all his characters, including her, and wanted the reader to, as well. From the description, it sounds like the movie matches that.

Second, the photo you used to illustrate the film threw me for a moment–I didn’t recognize Mia Wasikowska at first. It looked for a moment like Gwyneth Paltrow–who looks like Jessica Chastain, who looks like Bryce Dallas Howard, and on and on and on.

We’re seeing a bit of the same situation with actors as well, but it’s much more pronounced with actresses. Due to the pre-defined ideas of casting directors, they’re all ending up looking the same. I am very tired of it.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Hank Graham
Thu, Jun 11, 2015 10:45pm

I wish I could have found better images for this film, but the ones available were very limiting.

I haven’t read the book, as I noted above, but it’s very easy to see how this story could have had relevance for today’s audiences. And it completely misses that.

Max Urai
Max Urai
reply to  Hank Graham
Thu, Sep 03, 2015 3:22pm

I actually really liked the book (haven’t seen the movie). It sounds a bit unfair to say Emma is a ‘petulant child’ to me – yeah, she’s petty, and not incredibly bright, but she never felt unreal or underwritten to me. Flaubert clearly liked his female protagonist – he said that she was basically him – and I got the sense that she was meant not so much as a view of all women as just a portrait of one. One who happens to be superficial and moody at times, but who also has an interesting sort of honesty about her and whose fate is pretty tragic in the end. She’s not a proto-feminist, no, but she has her own dreams. Portraying her as an ‘untamed wild woman’ would be truly weird, since the whole point of the book is that all her passions have been reigned in by the stuffy bourgeouis society she’s in.

Gretta Smith
Gretta Smith
Fri, Jun 12, 2015 3:54pm

Why the fuck is this review so one-sidedly women-centered? Can someone tell Mary that she sounds like a dyke trying to get attention by shaming men in her reviews and demanding strong powerful women to be everywhere — she seriously sounds like a fucking moron! How about reviewing a movie with dignity and not some pseudo-feminist cunt bogus, irrelevant writeup that appeals to no one. Wake up Mary, give yourself a good wank in the titty and start reviewing films properly, with real points.

Sat, Jun 13, 2015 11:06am

18th-century rural French countryside,seriously?

Tue, Jun 16, 2015 8:48am

Watching it now Mia is pretty terriable very forced performance and what’s with all the American accents if it takes place in France?