A favorite among readers and widely regarded as a literary work of art, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Goldfinch is a novel that was published only six years ago. For this nearly eight hundred page story to be turned around so quickly and made into a feature film seemed an ambitious task and, as a result, the screen adaptation finds itself lost in translation.
The Goldfinch is the story of Theodore Decker (Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley) after his survival of a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The attack killed Theodore’s mother and, as a result, he blames himself for her death. Theo is taken in by a kind, wealthy family whose matriarch takes a particular interest in him. His stay with them, however, is shortlived as Theo’s absent, alcoholic, and estranged father, Larry (Luke Wilson), shows up with girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) to take him away.
What becomes quickly apparent, however, is that they’re more interested in the money that is left for Theo because of his mother’s death. Theo will learn how to deal with Larry and Xandra in his new home in Las Vegas, far from the bustling streets of New York. While there, he befriends a student from Ukraine, Boris (Finn Wolfhard, Aneurin Barnard), and comes to rely on him through this difficult time. The two boys get into their fair share of trouble and learn some painful truths about each other.
The Goldfinch unevenly goes back and forth between Theo being a child and when he’s an adult. The character is played by both Ansel Elgort when he’s older, and Oakes Fegley when he’s younger. With that out of the way, Oakes Fegley shows promise as a young actor. It is during his scenes when the film maintains a steady pace and keeps its interest. Unfortunately, when Elgort is onscreen, the story starts to feel jilted and too methodical. It begins to slow down and becomes a little more uninteresting. It isn’t until the very end, when the stakes are higher, that Elgort’s presence takes on a larger purpose. Fegley and Finn Wolfhard, in portraying the younger Boris, also make for an odd, yet fun, pairing. As a result, they make the film better in their own way, but that is what also contributes to the uneven tone in how this story is presented.
The biggest failure with The Goldfinch is that there’s just not enough time to tell the story. The novel, at nearly eight hundred pages, has so much nuance, thought, and exploration that there’s no way it can adequately be covered in a two and a half hour movie. With some polishing of the script and the same cast, yes, even Ansel, The Goldfinch could have been made into an HBO miniseries that gave the story the proper attention and time it deserves.
What’s also frustrating is that, because of the limitations of the film’s length, there’s so much left to be desired. With the novel, there are specific relationships that are explained in greater detail where the movie glosses over them. There are chunks of the film where the audience is left to interpret or guess what happens offscreen. Certain aspects of the story are introduced or alluded to, but not followed up on by the time the end credits roll.
For what was once considered an award season contender, and even a potential Oscar nomination, The Goldfinch falls flat and fails to respect the story it’s based on. With more time and character development, which a series could’ve provided, this very well might have been one of the better shows to watch on television this year. Instead, it’s one of the more disappointing movies to be shown in theaters.