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Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl Earring

Director:Peter Webber
Cast:Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth
Screen Writer:Peter Webber

By Richard Gorelick | Posted

You know at the museum, that short film you watch in the little room before you go into the big exhibition? That's the kind of movie Girl With a Pearl Earring is. Extras in the Delft market scenes all but turn to the camera and say, "These are the clothes we wear in this period." Adapted, with the clammy hands of a curator, from the popular Tracy Chevalier novel about the creation of a Jan Vermeer masterpiece, the movie uncannily evokes the experience of watching paint dry.

The novel and movie imagine that the subject of a famous Vermeer painting was not his eldest daughter, as is commonly believed, but a poor girl named Griet (Scarlett Johansson), whose scrofulous family sends her off to work in the house of the not-yet-famous Dutch artist. Here, she's welcomed with something less than a rousing rendition of "Be Our Guest." For its distaff residents, life in the toxic Vermeer household appears to consist mainly of giving Griet dirty looks and vying for the attention of the moody, brilliant artist himself (Colin Firth, with moody, brilliant hair).

Griet doesn't so much mind dusting Vermeer's studio/lair, and director Peter Webber insanely overplays her confused ecstasy upon first seeing one of his paintings. The audience of art appreciators are signaled (ordered, really) to nod that, yes, Vermeer's paintings are imbued with so much honesty of feeling that even the most cloistered souls can see at work in them the hand of God.

Once Vermeer decides to have Griet pose for him, and as the details in the composition of the famous title painting begin to accrue, the movie turns into an extended visual pun--look, here's the turban; try looking over your shoulder, that's great. And when Vermeer pierces Griet's ear, we're meant to rise from our seats and declare that nothing could be sexier. It's a love scene for New Yorker readers who don't look at the cartoons first.

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