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    Sarandon Channels Joan Crawford in Disappointing The Last of Robin Hood

    garysoloThe Last of Robin Hood, written and directed by the queer filmmaking couple Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, is a curious misfire about Errol Flynn’s (Kevin Kline) last and illicit relationship with the underage starlet Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning). This uneven film is never quite as juicy as it could have been, especially considering the provocative source material.

    Part of the film’s problem is its inconsistent tone. There is something oddly artificial about this period drama. For starters, the performers seem to be acting in different films. Kevin Kline hams it up rather nicely as the lovesick Flynn in a biopic. Fanning is all innocence and then suddenly becomes jaded in a coming of age story. And, in the film’s pivotal role, Susan Sarandon plays Beverly’s mother Florence—a clueless stage mother who is also culpable and an alcoholic—as if she were appearing in a docudrama. The characterizations may be based on reality, but the film never rings true. Heck, even the period cars and costumes all seems to be trying too hard to impress viewers.

    sarandonThe Last of Robin Hood (an exceedingly poor title) opens with the announcement of Flynn’s death and the question of who is the young girl he loved when he died. The narrative soon flashes back two years to show how Orry Kelly (out actor Bryan Batt in one of his two brief scenes) introduced Flynn to Beverly Aadland. Flynn invites the young actress/singer/dancer to “audition” for him in his home, and it is immediately clear she lacks talent. But her beauty prompts the smitten Flynn to treat her to dinner, ply her with alcohol, and then take her virginity on his couch. He soon tells the teenage starlet that he is “endlessly curious” about her. He later finds out that while Florence passes her daughter off as 18, Beverly is actually only 15.

    sarandon4While Flynn is smitten by the ingénue’s cheekiness, Beverly quickly falls under Flynn’s spell. Oddly, her character becomes less interesting as the film progresses. This means that the burden of The Last of Robin Hood falls on the pivotal character of Florence, who allows her young daughter to be seduced by the Hollywood star she too wants to befriend. Florence recounts the relationship between Beverly and Flynn to Tedd Thomey (Jason Davis), who promises to write a book that tells the truth. However, Florence is bitter, drunk, and broken, and her version of the events probably cannot be entirely trusted.

    The film might have had some life if it played up Florence’s flights of fancy in the re-enactments. Instead, The Last of Robin Hood lumbers along as Beverly claims to be in love while her mother refuses to see things for what they are. Audiences, however, can see right through the characters and the situations, which zaps the film of its dramatic tension.

    Although the storytelling is ham-fisted, the acting somewhat compensates. Kline injects Flynn with a considerable verve, playing his insidious seducer to the hilt. But, like his turn as Cole Porter in “De-Lovely,” the material is not as strong as his performance.

    Kline puts the right spin on a “Lolita” reference he parries to Beverly, but he can’t quite save a flat scene in which Flynn tries to convince Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella) that he should play Humbert Humbert—with Beverly as the title character in the film version, of course.

    In contrast, Fanning is not terribly convincing when she is supposed to be conniving, trying to persuade her mother to let her go to Africa where Flynn is making a movie so she can be with her lover. Fanning is the film’s weakest link because her character, the real victim in the story, never engenders any real sympathy. A fight she has with her mother after getting engaged to Flynn should be a big emotional moment, but it hardly registers. The only strength of the young actress’ performance is her ability to act, sing, and dance badly.

    sarandon2The Last of Robin Hood is best when it focuses on Florence’s story. She is the most pathetic character (no mean feat), and Sarandon plays her as a sacrificial mama, right out of a 1950s “woman’s picture.” In fact, in the film’s final scene, Florence is so willing to absorb her daughter’s sins at any price that Sarandon is practically channeling Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce. Her performance is both showy and blowsy, but it holds viewers’ interest.

    Glatzer and Westmoreland’s film could have been a fascinating depiction of mother/daughter love, the quest for celebrity and the ill-fated nature of fame, and a striking exposé of a sordid affair. Unfortunately, The Last of Robin Hood is all and none of those things. It is simply a lackluster treatment of Flynn’s wicked, wicked ways.

    © 2014 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” You can follow him on Twitter @garymkramer