Marc Munden’s feature film debut Miranda (2002) starring Christina Ricci, John Simm, Kyle Maclachlan, and John Hurt is billed as an edgy romantic thriller about a small-town librarian in northern England whose sedimentary lifestyle is rejuvenated by a seductive American stranger (Christina Ricci). While aesthetically pleasing and technically competent, the film suffers from a lack of cohesive story telling. Munden gets lost in the gluttony of popular American genre films that are neither one thing nor the other; popular hybrids of late often called dramedy, bromance, and others lends credence to the trend. That isn’t to say there aren’t successful moments contained in genuinely touching scenes from John Hurt and Christina Ricci, but they are lost almost as quickly as they appear, absorbed in an otherwise bland plot perhaps better suited as a MOW (movie of the week).
When we first meet Frank (John Simm), the mood and tone of the library becomes a recurring texture to the look and feel of the entire film. Expressionistic lighting creates a personal, albeit narrow view of this world, while red and mint green creates subdued neon undertones in classic film noir fashion. But a lofty sense of ideals gets in the way of telling the one true story that remains the most interesting – the moment when two awkward people find themselves amid the bleak and often muted world of everydayness.
Miranda is a film of moments that do not add up to the sum of its 93 minute story. One might find this is the result of a director whose primary work has been in British mini-series, a short coming magnified on the big screen where there is no respite or a welcome intervention by television commercials. This is not to say that all is lost. Witty dialogue and creative camera angles move the characters through interesting scenery, such as the imagery of Miranda waiting for Frank in Trafalgar square with a score of birds fluttering down like her scattered and conflicting emotions. Earlier we see the two protagonists together at a beach, entangled in a red and green palm-like blanket. Initially our view is upside down as the camera slowly rights itself and we close in on the couple discussing the nuances of their backgrounds. While moments like these live on in our memory, it is the implausibility of Ricci’s character as a femme fatale that lures unsuspecting businessmen into million dollar mistakes that takes away from all of these careful and timely episodes.
Cinematographer Ben Davis works seamlessly with Munden to translate essential film mechanics into interesting visuals that are at times the strong suit of Miranda. What keeps the story rooted in an otherwise muddy, often unbelievable plot are mostly due to casting choices. The business pawns in the story that have their “dreams are fulfilled” are clunky, albeit short-lived at best, and obvious. Kyle Maclachlan portrays a wealthy businessman with an all-too-familiar fetish that is at first heavy-handed and then toned down to the point of ridiculousness. The comedic elements in the film are never truly realized.
It’s unfortunate that all of the necessary parts of this film never come together long enough to make Miranda more engaging. There is just not enough for us to connect with in either character or desire. The awkward anti-socialite librarian doesn’t ring true because at once he is indecisive and obsessive with his lost girlfriend, uncertain until his mate arrives to help him win her back, and then in the end is overcome by his own ideals to realize that he’s returning to her for the very reason that he left her in the first place.
It would be too easy to dismiss the obvious talent and hard work that any feature-length film requires. Munden’s work on his debut feature should not be dismissed summarily on the merit of his stint in the box office nor the problematic results of casting and story. Often too many films are relegated to the back row of rental shelves because they lack the draw of top bill actors or directors who have earned reputations with studio films. For all of the flaws in Miranda, there are equal moments of absolute gold. As Frank and his mate are racing to rescue Miranda from the clutches of Nailor and his henchman, the windshield wipers on their car are making the same sound as Frank’s squeaky chair in the library, a kind of hypnotic repetition that on one hand concretes the moment and on the other, produces a kind of circular effect to the beginning of the film when Miranda walked in to Frank’s life.
Miranda, though flawed, does suggest that Marc Munden can assemble a feature worthy of note even if it better serves as a calling card for his next project.