Hugo was lauded as a grand, whimsical journey helmed by an accomplished, respected, and award-winning director (Martin Scorsese). “Audiences and critics agree, Hugo is the must-see movie of the year!” is something that I heard many, many times, especially when it was getting released on DVD. It swept up big time accolades from the film community for being a dazzling, cinematic accomplishment. And to be fair, it really is exactly that. Sort of. I mean it’s all those things, but it’s also a complete exercise in movie making self masturbation.
To explain what I mean by that, I have to reveal the basic premise with some minor spoilers. After watching the trailers, I still had no idea what the heck to expect out of this movie. Basically, the titular Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan boy living in a quasi-magical, 1930’s Parisian train station after the death of his father (Jude Law). He spends his days winding clocks, stealing food, and avoiding the wrath of the clumsy but single-minded Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who has apparently made it his mission to round up every single child he can find and send them off to the orphanage (which we’re led to believe is not a pleasant place to be). Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) owns a small toy shop in the station, and catches young Hugo trying to steal from him. From that chance encounter, Hugo meets Georges’ granddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) who shares Hugo’s love of adventure and imagination. It’s all quite whimsical, did I mention that?
Not to get into the specifics, but there’s a mystery surrounding a creepy little robo-manequin Hugo inherited from his father, and the heart-shaped key that Isabelle inherited from her grandfather. Slowly the two young sleuths begin to unravel the secret and fantastical tale through which their lives have been unknowingly woven together. Sounds pretty awesome, right?
Well I’m gonna be nice and just say that it wasn’t nearly as awesome as I expected it to be. Part of that problem comes down to my unrealistic expectations, but there’s a reason for that. Because people in the movie making business fucking LOVE them some movies about making movies. And that’s a big part of the backstory surrounding Hugo. It’s all about the magic of making movies, following your dreams, making movies, and making movies. Don’t get me wrong: I love movies of every shape and size, and I love the innovation and creativity that comes with movies, from the scraped together indie flick to the summer mega blockbuster. But I think the attention Hugo got was due in large part to the self indulgent interests of the film community. It’s not surprising. I mean, if your job is in the sports industry, you’re probably gonna have stronger feelings about a sports movie. And if your job is in the being-a-dick industry, you’re probably gonna love Brett Ratner.
I found myself bored by the movie. The lazy antics of Sacha Baron Cohen fell short of real comedy, the plot was pretty convoluted, and I’ve lost the ability to take Ben Kingsley seriously. I sort of see the vision that Scorsese was going for, but did you know that there isn’t a SINGLE mobster who gets shot in this film?? There really were some spectacular moments of wildly imaginative film making, but they were not frequent enough to keep me from looking at my watch and thinking about what was next on the Netflix queue. Hugo was fairly uneven at best, and an unsatisfying experience at worst. So if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and go in with more realistic expectations. Unless you have an unhealthy fetish for terrifying robots with dwarfism, in which case you really are going to love this movie.
Have you seen the movie? What did you think about it? Let me know in the comments below!
~ Jonny Green