Chris Noonan's Miss Potter continues a rather long line of films that attempt to diagnose the creative process of a writer and the critical world that surrounds the writer's inherent social (emotional) ineptitude. There are moments where Miss Potter seems to be on the right track in feeling out the emotional trajectory of its main character, but it often chooses the route of greater cuteness over the challenges of trying to study the life of a writer.
Beatrix Potter (Renée Zellweger) came from a well-off family and was well past her marriage date when three brothers agreed to publish her book, expecting nothing more than a minor profit. In case the name doesn't ring a bell, Miss Potter was the brains behind the beloved Peter Rabbit and several other indelible creatures of delightful fantasy. When the elder statesmen of the publishing firm deem the project unworthy of their time, they send their young brother (Ewan McGregor), to handle the book and its flighty author. As you may guess, the two fall head-over-heels, much to the chagrin of Beatrix's parents (Bill Patterson and Barbara Flynn) and to the glee of his sister (Emily Watson, the film's most evident charm factory).
Noonan, best known for the now classic Babe, treats his subject with the same well-dressed adorability that Potter gave her creatures, most notably Peter. A more easygoing version of Marc Forster's Finding Neverland, Miss Potter spends more time striving to deal with the relationship status of its heroine than delving into the quixotic charm of her writing process. The better parts of the film are the flourishes of animated hallucinogenics that Noonan puts in as a reminder of where these creations came from: Beatrix's parlor of emotional eccentricities.
The problem is that, when push comes to shove, we've seen Potter's story before, and Miss Potter is severely lacking in trying to differentiate its source material from any other classically-tinted story of love and writing. Acting-wise, there couldn't be a sweeter bunch of actors to add to the candy-coated shell the film inhabits. But the film invariably goes for impenetrable cuteness, even when a rather obvious tragedy occurs. In fact, all the drama that arises seems to be treated with fumbling, patronizing dullness to give more ample weight to what is a rather wanting character study.
Rereading the Peter Rabbit books, you have to marvel at the simplicity and class that the books had in telling a story with a solid moral. What Miss Potter doesn't have is the creative veil that Potter herself gave these wonderful stories. The film could have been so detailed and surreal, yet it relies on whimsy like the animated whirl of Beatrix's parents stepping into a cartoon pumpkin led by four monstrous rabbits. It is missing that childlike love for nature and animals that Beatrix must have had, and in turn, forgets what it's like to have an imagination.
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