Here’s the first of two recently produced Alfred Hitchcock biopics: The Girl (2012), an HBO original film that examines the abusive relationship between the Master of Suspense and his last recurring lead actress, Tippi Hedren. Shortly after the explosive success of Psycho, Hitchcock (Toby Jones) begins working on his next big picture, The Birds. With “every blonde in Hollywood” anxious to land the lead role, Hitch instead turns to an unknown model, Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller), determined to shape her into his ultimate femme fatale. But Hitchcock, whose witty, larger-than-life persona conceals a psychological minefield of self hatred and sexual repression, falls hopelessly head over heels for his protégé – a sick, controlling kind of “love” that manifests as warped directorial cruelty.
Hitchcock is a fascinating figure who made equally fascinating, brilliantly crafted movies, but The Girl fails to mine this rich source material very profoundly, and the result isn’t nearly as interesting as the man himself or his body of work. This is through no fault of Jones, who delivers a spectacularly convicing impersonation of Hitchcock, both physically and verbally. But the script manages an odd trick: it demystifies Hitchcock without really understanding him; I came away feeling like I’d only gotten a superficial impression. Of course, the film is titled The Girl, and the traditional story arc is more centered on Tippi Hedren. Her tortured journey through The Birds and Marnie comes across as a heroic tale of Hollywood survival, in the wake of sustained sexual harrassment and psychological torture. Miller’s performance, likely to be overshadowed by Jones’ looming shadow, is understated and quite capable, making up for a lack of physical resemblance with a commendable attention to mannerism and inflection. Her experiences are the heart of film, and reflect a wider theme of systemic Hollywood sexism that effects every major female character, particularly Hitchcock’s long-suffering wife Alma (Imelda Staunton).
Alas, it doesn’t add up to a very satisfying entertainment. As a portrait of Hitchcock’s complex, twisted misogyny, it’s well crafted but unpenetrating; as a snapshot of the unfortunate plight of women in Hollywood, it’s well rendered but unstartling. Film buffs lured by the subject matter won’t find much surprise or insight, and worst of all, it commits the cardinal sin of being dull. At least it’s a great acting spotlight for Jones and Miller; both, I think, will receive considerable Emmy attention. But other than that, it’s pretty forgettable.