EIFF 2014 – Set Fire to the Stars

Jul 1, 2014 | Posted by in Edi Int Film Festival, Movies

Elijah Wood and Celyn Jones star in a story chronicling the arrival of famous poet Dylan Thomas (Jones) to the United States for a 40 day tour. This causes complications as Thomas’ tendency to excess and his general larger than life, unpredictable personality makes keeping him on schedule increasingly difficult.

Elijah Wood plays John Malcolm. Brinnin, an aspiring poet who idolises Celyn Jones’ Dylan Thomas and is excited about his arrival to America. Elijah Wood plays Brinnin with a naive excitement in the beginning, so sure that Thomas is going to live up to expectations and that meeting him will be a profound experience that will enrich Brinnin’s life and greatly inspire his own poetry.

As you might expect the reality is far different and Dylan Thomas doesn’t quite live up to expectations. It is quickly discovered that Thomas is outrageously eccentric and a major drunk. He spends much of the film dodging direct questions, refusing to cooperate and making requests worthy of a diva. Needless to say there is a strong theme of never meeting your heroes due to the potential for disappointment.

I thought portraying Thomas in this way was a really good choice, I liked the unpredictable nature that he has which helps make the film unpredictable as the audience is never sure what crazy thing Dylan Thomas will do next. One of my favourite scenes involved him telling rude jokes around distinguished company and just not caring about the reaction. It was hilarious and contained just the right amount of shock and cringe factor to make it truly special.

Celyn Jones really shines in this film, he plays many facets of Dylan Thomas’ personality which really makes him seem like a real person as opposed to the poetry associated persona that Brinnin expected. Given that Jones has a writing credit I can only assume much of the characterisation can be attributed to him. One minute he’s a regretful drunk, another he’s an insightful genius and other times he’s a playfully eccentric child who enjoys dirty jokes. This all helps to humanise the man as well as doing things that could be considered unintellectual such as lying around reading Superman comics -not that I would ever consider such a pass time unintellectual.

Elijah Wood’s John Michael. Brinnin is well played as well with a distinct character journey. As said above in the beginning he plays Brinnin as naive and excited to be meeting one of his heroes but as the film progresses he becomes more and more disillusioned with the reality of the man that he has to deal with. Wood plays the growing frustration expertly and some of his facial expressions showing disdain for Thomas are absolutely spot on. By the end of the movie Brinnin is much less timid but he’s also a man who has had his patience stretched beyond their limits and harbours a resentment towards his former hero.

The interplay between the two leads is perfectly done, they bounce so well off each other that you can practically see the twinkle in Thomas’ eye when he knows that he is getting to Brinnin and continues to push. There’s an interesting subplot about having courage to face something unpleasant, personified for Thomas through a letter from his wife that he refuses to read and shown through Brinnin by the courage he exhibits when dealing with this impossible poet.

Aesthetically the movie looked beautiful. Shooting in black and white really lends a timeless quality to it, almost as if you’re watching a part of history unfolding before your eyes. Wales does a great job of passing as 1950s New York as well. Stylistically there were some really interesting moments such as the hallucinogenic confrontation Thomas has with his wife as well as the cast all breaking character and the fourth wall to recite a poem.

I loved this movie, it was a well crafted and expertly acted story that keeps firm focus on the characters and never fails to be awkwardly hilarious when it needs to be. Andy Goddard does a great job framing the scenes and tight editing keeps the pacing spot on. I would have liked to see more of what inspired Dylan Thomas to be the man he is but I suppose that the film was really Brinnin’s story with Thomas being the catalyst for his growth as a person. Well worth checking out.