My Life So Far

on July 23, 1999 by L. J. Strom
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   Based on Sir Denis Forman's memoir, "Son of Adam," "My Life So Far" is a gentle but trenchant period piece set in Scotland during that idyllic "long weekend" between the two world wars. Ten-year-old Fraser Pettigrew (Robert Norman) narrates not only the story of his own childhood but the story of his family and the quiet emotional chaos that erupts when Uncle Morris (Malcolm McDowell) brings his French fiancee Heloise (Irene Jacob) to the family estate. That Heloise is less than half Morris's age, not to mention vivacious and beautiful, escapes no one's notice, especially Fraser's inventor father, Edward (Colin Firth), and his patient mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).
   While Fraser attempts to educate himself in the ways of the world to understand why he thinks of Heloise the way he does, Edward wrestles with his own feelings for the young woman, realizing that he needs to come of age himself, perhaps even more than his son.
   The film is modest in its ambitions, but in what it's trying to accomplish, it succeeds admirably. The evocation of both period and perspective seems effortless, and there's a masterful balance throughout between real emotion and genuine humor. Though sweet and charming, the tone never crosses the line into cloying mawkishness. This is a credit to the whimsical, knowing script, the clarity of the direction, and the expertise of the actors. There's not an inauthentic performance in the ensemble, and while Norman is smartly beguiling as our ostensible protagonist, the true stand-out is Firth. It's really his story, but Firth never hogs the screen. He plays Edward with such subtlety and yet such precision that he's able to reveal Edward's feelings completely while actually saying very little on the surface. Indeed, the whole film works this way: understated yet utterly lucid. As a result, it's as poignant as it is pleasurable.    Starring Colin Firth, Malcolm McDowell, Robert Norman, Irene Jacob and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Directed by Hugh Hudson. Written by Simon Donald. Produced by David Puttnam and Steve Norris. A Miramax release. Comedy/Drama. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, including some nude pictures. Running time: 94 min.
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