Reviewed October 14th, 2001 by David Nusair
Had Wit premiered in theaters rather than on HBO, there’s no doubt that Emma Thompson would’ve received (at the very least) an Oscar nomination for her performance. But the subject matter of Wit precluded its ability to be made for theatrical release (in this day and age, where teen comedies are all the rage, which studio is going to bankroll an edgy film about a woman’s struggle with terminal cancer?), so it went straight-to-cable (in actuality, it was made specifically for HBO).
Thompson stars as a professor of poetry that, as the film opens, learns she has end-stage cancer and must – from here on in – dedicate herself to staving off the progress of the disease for as long as possible. This entails long hours of chemotherapy, ingesting experimental drugs – essentially putting aside her life for the sole purpose of fighting the cancer. Her doctor is more interested in the results of her treatment, so he can further his research. She’s always been an emotionally distant woman and as such, has never been married nor does she seem to have any friends. Indeed, her only companion at the hospital is a kind nurse. The movie alternates between harshly realistic scenes of Thompson suffering the effects of her treatment and more intimate, character-revealing sequences in which Thompson expresses her regrets to the nurse.
Wit is based on a play (which starred Who’s The Boss’ Judith Light, no less) and the theatrical origins still remain far too evident – most clearly in the monologues delivered directly to the camera. This is irritating and unnecessary. It completely stops the action and kills any forward momentum the film may have been building up. Thompson performs these scenes well and it’s easy to see why it may have been tempting to leave them in (it allows us to easily understand what the Thompson character is feeling), but it just doesn’t work. Breaking down the fourth wall rarely works to begin with, but it’s especially intrusive here.
Despite that, though, Wit is incredibly moving and features what is perhaps Thompson’s finest performance. The dour subject matter and director Mike Nichols’ unflinching approach may make this a difficult viewing, but it is rewarding.
Audio: Wit is presented with a dolby surround 2.0 track and it’s good. Obviously, there are no out-of-this-world surround effects, and this track reflects that. The dialogue is crisp and clear, while other sounds (mostly background hospital noises) occasionally give the non-center speakers a bit of a chance to do something.
Video: This anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is spotless. Since this is a film that’s never seen celluloid, one has to assume this transfer was entirely digital (that’s what it looks like, anyway). The picture is remarkably clean and the whites (of which there are many – this does take place in a hospital, after all) are bright and vivid.
Extras: The only extra here is a set of cast and crew bios. These are fairly extensive, though it might have been nice to see a trailer or even production notes.
Conclusion: Wit just might be the most depressing movie ever made, but it is rewarding due to a fabulous performance from Emma Thompson.
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