Lizzie haphazardly swings its hatchet in a multitude of underdeveloped misdirections. Lizzie Borden. Iconography for feminism. Tragedy for forbidden love. At thirty-two years of age, in the quaint town of Fall River, Massachusetts, she made national headlines one morning and has since become a cultural legend. Socially outcasted and domineered by the authoritative control of her father, she had lived a sheltered life filled with undeniable rage and detest for everyone. Purposefully ostracising herself day-by-day. Everyone except the newly recruited maid, Bridget Sullivan, whom she sympathised with and soon commenced an illicit romance under the subjugating nose of her father. The more the love affair blossomed, the greater the risk, and that increased threat led Lizzie to a slaughterous barbarity that cemented her in Massachusetts history.
Macneill’s biographical thriller, for the most part, bestows an authentic accuracy upon its dramatisation by recreating variously described scenes and characterised personalities. The Borden’s religious upbringing, Bridget’s Irish immigration, Lizzie’s roost of pigeons of which her father butchered them and Lizzie’s maternal uncle John discussing potential property inheritance. Whilst the central lesbian love affair was speculative, it acts as the core catalyst within Kass’ straightforward screenplay. Therefore, given artistic licence and ideational freedom, one would’ve expected this romance to have sumptuous development and beguilement. Regrettably, not the case.
Lizzie is unequivocally misdirected by Macneill, whom commences the feature with the pivotal scene of the entire ordeal before launching a linear flashback leading up to that precise moment. Already the excitement has been relinquished, with Macneill inserting a tedious layer of predictably that enables audiences to conscientiously guess how the film will play out. The extensive flashback then contains a multitude of embryonic sub-plots and character details, such as Lizzie’s unexplained seizures, her father sexually assaulting Bridget, John’s plan to acquire the will and testament, the prickly relationship with her step-mother whom acknowledges her husband’s infidelity and, most importantly, the relationship with Bridget. Nearly every plot detail is scattershot, with the vast majority of dialogue whispered and/or mumbled making it almost impossible to fully comprehend one simple sentence. Did 1890s state law have a decibel restriction or something?
So, in spite of Sevigny’s fairly competent albeit flat central performance, which strengthened the searing stoicism of her character, the onscreen chemistry with Stewart was non-existent. The fundamental affinity of Kass’ narrative endeavour. The two barely registered an emotion other than disconsolation, participating in a viscerally awkward love-making scene in the barn which involved excitedly breathing into each other’s mouths (that’s how pregnancy works, right?). Frustrating, considering Stewart’s committed performance and vulnerable portrayal of a woman unsure of her position in life. Equipped with a decent Irish accent as well.
During the third act, the flashback returns to the present time before developing another flashback that details the grisly morning of August 4, which again, renounced any and all captivation due to the existence of its aftermath within the viewer’s mind. No level of deliberate eroticism would alter that engagement.
Lizzie, despite the exquisite corsets, Greenberg’s cinematography and mildly enchanting performances, was too busy arbitrarily swinging an axe hoping to produce a wound of feminism, that it had disorientated its narrative entirely. Restraining itself to historical strands rather than instigating a progressive story.