This latest film adaption of Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 novel was actually brought to my attention by sex-advice columnist Dan Savage. On Twitter, he was raving about how gorgeously hot the long-haired bisexual actor Ezra Miller was in this movie. As a long-time listener of the podcast Savage Love, I was amused to hear Dan comment about a historical costume movie, even it was just to drool over a cute boy in one (because that’s usually Frock Flicks’ job!).
Thus, in honor of Dan Savage, I’m going to summarize the plot of Madame Bovary (2014) in the form of a call into his show by the protagonist, Emma Bovary:
Hi Dan —
I’m a 20-year-old, hetero, cis-gendered female. My mom died when I was a kid, so my dad stuck me in a convent (but I’m not religious at all). When I turned 18, Dad married me off to a guy I didn’t even know. Obvs, my husband and I have NOTHING in common. He’s a lame doctor in a boring, dead-end village. But I’m totally into music and fashion and novels and all this really cool stuff that he just doesn’t get. Our sex life is completely vanilla, and he thinks that’s how it should be.
At first, I said no to an affair with the super-hot law clerk who came to town. He left, and I really regretted it, so I had a raging affair with this rich marquis. I thought he was gonna take me away from this shithole, but he bailed. I consoled myself with some shopping and racked up a lot of credit card debt, but whatevs, I deserved it. Finally, I hooked up with the law clerk, and O.M.G. the sex is fantastic.
But then my husband’s dad died, and he’s all depressed and even more boring than ever. Plus the creditors have come knocking. What should I do? There’s some arsenic in my husband’s doctor stuff, and, well, it’s really tempting. Is suicide the answer?
Dan Savage’s usual advice would be to grow some ovum and dump the motherfucker, but then, he doesn’t know 19th-century novels like I do. Because, yep, suicide is the only option for women who cheat on their husbands back then. Of course, Emma Bovary isn’t exactly a nice person, even aside from the extramarital action (or the spendthrift ways). Hell, nobody in this drama is anyone I’d want to sit down and have tea with. Dump the whole lot of ’em, I say! And their costumes too.
Madame Bovary Costumes
This screen adaption doesn’t follow the novel’s plot super-closely, and it’s not even that great of a frock flick. I spent the whole film trying to pin down what year it was supposed to take place, and I’m still not sure. Somewhere vaguely 1840s or 1850s, judging by the clothing. But the styles are so pared down and modified, with a neckline of this era and a waistline from that era and most dresses with plain sleeves, it’s hard to say for sure what year the designers are aiming for. The very modern machine-embroidered fabrics don’t help.
Maybe it should be no surprise that one of the two costume designers for this film is Christian Gasc (the other is Valerie Ranchoux). Don’t recognize Gasc’s name? Well, he costumed Farewell My Queen (2012) — and we have issues with that film too. Lots of modern design interposed with historical for a mishmash that doesn’t work. I think Farewell ends up as more of a hot mess than Bovary simply because the former is farther back in the past (and is set at the French court!), so it has more things to fuck up. But I’m seeing a trend there.
Oh I don’t deny that Madame Bovary‘s costumes are impeccably made with some gorgeous pattern-matching and fine detail work. It’s just … a bit all over the place. And then there’s the grommets. So much back-lacing. sigh Yes, that was done in the 19th century, but sparingly and typically for evening gowns, especially in the 1880s. Not so much for day dresses, like the teal gown Emma wears for the first third of the movie before her shopping sprees.
I can’t recommend the movie for either the story or the costumes, unfortunately. And sorry, Dan Savage, but while Ezra Miller is undeniably hot hot hot, he doesn’t get enough screentime, and during his two very quick sex scenes, we get barely a glimpse of bare chest and that’s all. Disappointing!
Do you listen to the Savage Lovecast? What would your advice be for Madame Bovary?