Review by J.T. Johnson
Like most biopics of famous people, “Tolkien” takes a rather simple look at a very intelligent and complicated man. The movie focuses mostly on his youth and intercuts this with his time served during World War I. The movie has very little to do with his famous creations, though they do spend considerable time setting up the fact that he invented an entire language that would come into play in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
The movie begins with J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) as a young lad who loses his father and, eventually, his mother at a young age. However, before she dies, Tolkien’s mother Mabel (Laura Donnelly) instills upon him a love for language and stories. In his later life, he meets his close friends Robert Gilson, Christopher Wiseman and Geoffrey Smith and they form a “fellowship” called the Tea Club, Barrovian Society, or T.C.B.S. for short.
According to the film, it is these three friends in addition to his love interest Edith Bratt (Lily Collins) that began to give him the ideas he would later use in his stories. These ideas would later turn into a story that would change the face of modern fantasy for all time. Of course, the only problem with this film is how simple it all makes it seem.
The film follows the usual formula of a biopic. All of his other friends think he is the greatest of them all and will go on to do many great things. Of course, that’s easy to say in a film that already knows the man will go on to do many great things.
The movie also has those silly moments of inspiration where suddenly he’ll have an idea for something that will inevitably play out in his literary life. Granted, for full disclosure, I have never really studied Tolkien’s life. Therefore, I don’t know how much the film got right and wrong, but with as many clichés as it has, I have a feeling that the filmmakers took many dramatic licenses with the truth.
Even if they got everything right, though, it still suffers from one painfully true fact. The movie is a huge borefest. As I was watching the movie, I started to doze off at one point and I even had to move a little bit to stay up and finish the film.
While that may be the case, I can say that the performances all around as well as the direction and cinematography were pretty spot on. Hoult, in particular, stands out with a praise-worthy performance as does Collins as Tolkien’s wife Edith. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that none of this is able to safe the film from being a rather mundane and ultimately forgettable biopic.