What I Watched Last Night: Chaplin

I am such a sucker for a good biopic. My favorite films include Selena and La Bamba, and I even love the fake ones like Velvet Goldmine. I still really want to see Lincoln before it leaves the theater here. Last night, I decided to watch Chaplin because it was about to disappear from Netflix Instant.

For years, I’ve been meaning to watch this Charlie Chaplin biopic, for reasons mostly having to do with wanting to make out with Robert Downey Jr. Err”¦ obviously, I mean, because it’s supposed to be a good movie. The mister had already seen it, which contributed to my delay, so I started watching while he was otherwise occupied.

Scenes from the film ChaplinIn short, the movie is centered around a conversation between an elderly Chaplin and the (fictional) editor of his autobiography, played by Anthony Hopkins. The two are going over notes for the book, and the editor is trying to persuade Chaplin to include more – more details, more emotion, more everything. We see bits from his childhood and his mother’s decreasing sanity, her institutionalization, his start in vaudeville, and his invite to Hollywood. There are a string of wives and there is the inevitable tension with J. Edgar Hoover.

Tons of familiar actors pop up – Dan Ackroyd as the director who gives Chaplin his start, David Duchovny as a film editor and cameraman, a very young Milla Jovovich as Chaplin’s first wife, Diane Lane as his third, Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks, Marisa Tomei as a silent film actress, and a lot of other people I recognized but couldn’t quite place.

It’s a great movie. Robert Downey Jr. is quite good at capturing profound loneliness in a single, quiet expression, and the whole thing is well-written. I’m glad I remembered to watch it before it became a little harder to remember it. (It’s available as an instant video rental on Amazon for $2.99, for those of you who might be interested.)

What are some of your favorite biopics? Are you partial to the music and movie ones like I am, or are you usually on more of a political bent? Do tell.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

2 replies on “What I Watched Last Night: Chaplin”

Alright, alright, just another one for the long list of watching. I’m not a big biopic fan, especially if the biographed person is played by an actor I know. Or if I know them both. Maybe I don’t trust our actors to shed enough skin to make me forget they’re not the person it’s about (Zoe Saldana/Nina Simone comes to mind).

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