Steven Spielberg is known for his casting skills, but this one
suffers a bit from the 12-year-old lead character being not quite charming
enough to trigger our empathy and affection.
Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) is an insomniac British girl who
lives in an orphanage in London. She
roams the rambling place at night, unable to sleep, and sometimes reads
books and other times checks the door locks, and hides under her blanket
during bed check. One night
she looks out the window and seems an enormous giant, standing out in the
street. He’s three stories
tall. He’s also kind of
goofy-looking, very skinny with a receding hairline and scraggly sideburns
and huge ears that cover both sides of his head.
She speaks sharply to him, as she already has to the drunks
staggering home from the nearby bar. He
responds by reaching in the open window and snatching her out of her bed
and carrying her off to his big house in the wilds.
Sophie is scared, of course, but she fusses at the giant, anyway,
and says he won’t be able to keep her because she’ll run away, and he
assures her that won’t help, because she won’t be able to get home on
her own, anyway. But even that
much dialogue alerts Sophie that this big, awkward giant really isn’t
planning to eat her, after all. More
like keeping her as a pet. But
she has no patience for that, either, and promptly climbs out the window
the first chance she gets, only to find herself in the midst of a bunch of
sleeping giants out in the field. They
turn out to be bigger and meaner than her own big, friendly, giant---whom
she nicknames “BFG” (the voice of Mark Rylance). They even come over
to BFG’s house and bully him, insisting he turn over his
treasure---Sophie---so they can eat her.
Sophie asks BFG why he doesn’t fight back, and it seems that
basically he’s a pacifist. What
he’s really interested in doing is capturing dreams----in a special
place in Giant Land where he can do that. (Think about capturing
Tinkerbell in a bottle in “Peter Pan”.)
The BFG labels his captured dreams, and then returns to a
late-night London to send the dreams to the sleeping people.
The pleasant ones he likes to give to children.
(It’s possible that Mr. Spielberg presents this as a metaphor for
what he does as a filmmaker.)
Sophie takes it on herself to solve the BFG’s problem with
bullies by appealing directly to the Queen (Penelope Wilton of “Downton
Abbey” fame), who sends out a troop of soldiers to capture the giants
and banish them to a rocky, deserted island in the Irish Sea.
(It’s a supposedly non-violent solution, until you think about
how they are going to survive there.)
The charm of this movie is actually, the BFG, with his
malapropisms, and his peace-loving demeanor and his mission of spreading
dreams to children. It’s a
good story, and it will be a hit, but it won’t be a home run, because
the main character just doesn’t fire up the imagination.