Movie Review: Anne of Green Gables (2016)

anne-2016Following the 1985 Anne of Green Gables mini series (starring Megan Follows) was always going to be difficult for this new film version.  Still, Anne’s story continues to delight readers and it seems that, over 30 years later, we might be due for a new interpretation.  Even after reading the summary (which states that the film ends–instead of beginning with– the decision to keep Anne) I thought I would give it a chance.  But this is one of the most painful films I have ever watched.

Presumably casual viewers might not find this film as awful as I did.  But, being a lifelong fan of Anne of Green Gables, I almost gave up seven minutes in. (Spoilers for the film and the book follow for the rest of the review.) The film opens with a dismal train scene.  It’s dark, the passengers are off-putting, and Anne is remembering her past abuse.  I actually appreciate that the film does not gloss over Anne’s sad past, but the dark colors seem wrong for the film.  The makers must have agreed as the film abruptly cuts off to green grass and a sweeping view of the sea.  The grittiness is over, aside from a few more flashbacks to past abuse.  The vibrant tone of the majority of the film makes it seem like a completely different film has been slapped onto the start.

After the train scene, we switch to Matthew Cuthbert, seen chasing a pig while yelling.  I repeat: Matthew Cuthbert is yelling.  He then falls into a mud puddle for laughs.  Even if we ignore that this a cliche joke and not very funny anyway, it’s hard to accept a film that uses shy, awkward, and endearing Matthew Cuthbert for physical humor.  He then yells at Marilla, yells an almost flirtatious greeting to Mrs. Rachel (“I doozy up pretty good, don’t you think?”), and has a normal conversation with Anne.  We also find out later that this Matthew actually went a-courting in the past, but he was too poor for anyone to have him.  The character resembles Matthew Cuthbert so little that the film should probably have given him a different name.

The film improves a little from here, but perhaps the experience is still far from pleasant.  Anne’s actress is unconvincing.  The actor who plays Gilbert has slicked back hair and almost comes across as smarmy.  Worse of all (for book fans), the Anne/Gilbert subplot is almost nonexistent, presumably because only about half the book is adapted.  It’s admittedly difficult to play up the Anne/Gilbert controversy without a way to resolve it at the end, since this Anne does not age into a young woman.  Still the film nods to a possible reconciliation when Gilbert hands Anne a decoration for the school and she smiles.  That’s the last we see of Gilbert and it’s unclear how Anne feels about him or why she seems to have softened towards him since the infamous “Carrots” incident.  Gilbert receives so little attention from the film that his character might as well have been cut.

The film condenses a lot of the action to ensure a short viewing time.  This means that  plot points like the loss of Marilla’s brooch, Anne’s desire to leave school, and Anne’s separation from Diana are resolved almost immediately.  But through such condensation leaves a little extra room, the film does not use the extra time to fit in the iconic scenes like Anne’s fall off the roof, her hair dye experiment, or Anne’s rescue on the lake.  Instead the film adds a different lake scene–Anne walks on a frozen lake and then falls in when the ice cracks (another overused plot point, I might add).  She then screams relentlessly for help, chastising Matthew for not being faster because she’s soooo cold and who cares if the man is doing his best and can’t go faster unless he wants to fall in, too?  So instead of being treated to favorite moments from the book, viewers are subjected to a whiny Anne in a cliche scenario.

Then we have to consider that the premise of the entire film is a bit ridiculous.  Marilla and Matthew are going to keep Anne for a year and then just send her away?  They’re going to make her love their home and her life and then as soon as they can clean their hands of her, just pretend her feelings (and theirs)  don’t matter? (Note that this Marilla has been giving Anne soft looks since the start and clearly loves her, but we’re supposed to buy that she’s willing to let go of Anne at the end.)  It’s a strange plan.  It also fundamentally changes Matthew’s character since he’s supposed to be startling everyone by firmly refusing to let go of Anne.  Here he doesn’t do anything.  Anne can stay, Anne can leave.  Whatever.  Matthew will do what Marilla says.  It doesn’t really make you want to connect with either Matthew or Marilla on an emotional level.

Finally, many of the decisions of the film just do not make any sense.  For instance, the  film repeatedly shows us that Matthew has heart trouble in foreshadowing.  But Matthew doesn’t die in this version.  So he’s just randomly having heart trouble and I guess…it’s…part of his character?  It doesn’t seem to affect him much except in random scenes.  Yes, we all always wanted a story where Matthew lives, but in that case, cut the scenes of him having spells.  In another scene, we learn that Marilla once was courted but her mother did not approve.  This change ruins the parallels between Anne’s relationship with Gilbert and Marilla’s relationship with Gilbert’s father.  But I suppose since Gilbert’s barely a character in this story, the creators did not think it mattered.  Which also raises the question of why we needed such a line in the first place.  Presumably it’s meant to humanize Marilla, but this Marilla is a big ole softy anyway.

When I think back on what I liked about this film, I liked most of the music (though it was often used in a rather heavy-handed manner to indicate that a mood change is happening!).  And Julie LaLonde gives a fair performance as Diana, who is not so dull in this version but shares excitedly in Anne’s flights of fancy.  Other than that, well….  If you’re an Anne fan, I would recommend returning to the 1985 mini series.  That one never disappoints.

1 starKrysta 64

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26 thoughts on “Movie Review: Anne of Green Gables (2016)

      • Risa says:

        I understand. I didn’t want to write it off without giving it a chance either. But seeing as Hollywood has tampered with it a great deal and has messed with the charm of the story I would hate to waste my time on it!

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        • Krysta says:

          I believe this was actually made in Canada and Montgomery’s granddaughter was a producer. So I’m surprised by the result. I did figure out that there are two projected sequels, so at least Matthew’s heart spells weren’t totally random. But that does make me wonder why they hinted at a Gilbert/Anne resolution so early on.

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    • Krysta says:

      I was skeptical from the start and…that skepticism was warranted. I looked at some online reviews after I wrote this and most seem to agree with me that it’s not a great film, though they try to end a little more positively about it being a heartwarming family film. Sure, maybe, if you don’t feel strongly about Anne of Green Gables?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. jennasthilaire says:

    This sounds like one of those instances where moviemakers take the title of a book and the names of the characters and then basically make an entirely different story with entirely different people. That’s incredibly unfortunate in a case like this, given how widely the original story is loved. Thanks for sparing me this one; I’d have been disappointed, too. “Matthew Cuthbert is yelling” … No just no just no.

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    • Krysta says:

      It’s strange because Montgomery’s granddaughter was one of the executive producers, but the film doesn’t feel very much like the book.

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  2. luvtoread says:

    This was a terrible adaptation! When it first started I was irritated about Matthew being so un-Matthew-ish, and then I kinda warmed up to it a bit in the middle, but then the lake scene happened and the ending and I was just oh-so-confused. I did not understand all of the foreshadowing of Matthew being ill at all – it seemed so heavy handed, and then they didn’t even have it mean anything! I just was puzzled by the whole thing. It was very odd.
    And I thought Rachel Lynde was poorly portrayed here – she was such perfection in the Megan Follows version, and this Rachel didn’t have any spice to her like that Rachel had.

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  3. Small Review says:

    yikes! Well, that sounds about what I expected. The 1985 version is too dear to me that I was about 98% convinced I wasn’t going to watch this new version on principle alone, 1.8% convinced based on the trailer, and, well, you’ve sealed the deal–I won’t be watching this adaptation!

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    • Krysta says:

      The music selection on the trailer made me not watch to watch this. Fortunately, that music was not in the movie, so there is something to be thankful for, after all.

      But I guess another adaptation is coming to Netflix so maybe that one will be better.

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  4. Liz says:

    I watched this 2016 version with an open mind and wanted to like it. I’ve read every one of Montgomery’s works currently in print and can accept that a tweak here and there is part of TV/movies taking a classic and converting it to film. That being said, this production was an ABOMINATION. Anne was not just optimistic, she came across as pushy, even cocky. She did not speak dreamily of things she imagined, she was what would have been called in that era “sassy” or “fresh”. Marilla was much too young and lacking in acerbic looks, speech and mannerisms. Mathew was simply unrecognisable- he was painfully shy and terrified of women, not yelling across his fields to passersby like in this travesty. Mrs. Lynde and Diana in no way resembled their character in the book or the 1985 production and seemed only cardboard cutouts The entire film was shallow, the writers made up situations that deviated so far from the book’s story line, which is chock-full of delicious events, that I wondered why they bothered to call it “Anne.” What was PBS thinking what they brought out this hideous, bastard-child of the real article?.

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    • Krysta says:

      You pretty much summed up this film. It doesn’t feel like Anne of Green Gables at all, just a generic story of a girl who goes to live on a farm. :/ Because you’re right. None of the characters seemed like themselves at all. Marilla was too soft, Matthew was too loud, Mrs. Lynde was under-used, Diana was nice but not as boring as the books make her seem. And don’t get me started on Gilbert.

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