Ralph Fiennes. A Booker-prize winning novel. I'm dreaming of Oscar...then, again, maybe not. Oscar and Lucinda, the adaptation of Peter Carey's 1988 book is a mess - a shining example of how *not* to adapt a novel for the big screen - especially one as lengthy as Oscar and Lucinda. First off, voiceover narrative is 95% of the time a bad idea -- especially when its main purpose is to tell us what's happening on the screen. Second, don't waste time on subplots that diverge from the main - such as the one involving Oscar's surrogate father attempts at gambling, or the governess Miriam - whose sole purpose is to (eventually) bring the narrator into being.
It doesn't help that the novel itself is a rather unwieldy and extremely quirky farrago (judging from the bits I skimmed through in the bookstore), and that neither Gillian Armstrong, talented as she is, nor Laura Jones (who's now 0-for-3 in the last two years) are madwomen enough to capture the full flavor of Carey's novel. Except for one scene late in the film when Oscar is seated in the middle of a barge surrounded by a glass church, like Arthur on the way to the isle of Avalon. For a fleeting moment, Armstrong manages to catch the divine madness of Oscar.
While the screenplay and direction are relatively sedate, the quirkiness runs rampant in the extremely stylized performances from Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett which manage to catch how desperately right and completely wrong Oscar and Lucinda are for each other. (I'm reminded of Heavenly Creatures' Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme.) Unfortunately, the two are together on the screen for surprisingly little screen time, and what works when they share the screen seems overly broad when the two are apart. And both of them sweat so profusely I wanted to toss them a Speed Stick -- it's the most overbearing indication of madness in many a moon.
(I should note, for the sake of honesty, that I was seated far closer than I would have liked during the screening, and thus was extremely uncomfortable. This may have affected my view of the film a wee bit.)