The Personal History of David Copperfield movie poster
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The Personal History of David Copperfield
The Personal History of David Copperfield movie poster

The Personal History of David Copperfield Movie Review

I’m one who is glutton for punishment. I like films dark with a dose of depressing, and some ruthless frosting on top. Needless to say, the cheery, bright-colored The Personal History of David Copperfield, in which Dev Patel walks around smiling the entire time, lands far away from my preferences.

That’s not to say the earnestness and cheer of this rags-to-riches story didn’t claw at my steely exterior, causing uncomfortable warmth amongst the dark void that is my heart. While I was most at peace when a young Copperfield was being scorned and reprimanded as a child for breaking a glass jar at the glass jar-making factory, or being abused by his fiery father-in-law, I have to admit that the film by director Armando Iannucci and co-writer Simon Blackwell is fully willing to wear its disgusting heart on its sleeve, and wear it proudly, and that there is something endearing about it all. 

See, the film practically forced me to write a run-on sentence.

Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, though modernized in some respects--I’m guessing that Dickens didn’t envision a man of Indian descent playing the title character--The Personal History of David Copperfield is unfortunately a feel-good drama-comedy that defies its period piece trappings and source materials that has been adapted to film countless times already. 

The writing is light, fluffy, and witty. Having never read the source material, I’m not sure how much of it stems from the Dickens novel or Blackwell and Iannucci’s script, but the enthusiastic energy of the story bursts through at any given moment. 

Patel embodies this frightening cheeriness, exuding pure joy at every opportunity. The supporting cast clearly is having fun as well, with Peter Capaldi, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, and Ben Whishaw practically walking on ecstasy in every scene.

Even still, as a cynical bastard, the happiness of it all began to wear on me, and by the time the third act rolled around, I’d largely lost interest. As well made as it is, there simply wasn’t enough humor or drama or important moments for me to latch onto, like a mass murder or something of the like. Now that I say it, a mass murder would have really made The Personal History of David Copperfield click.

I acknowledge I’m not like you. I’m a dark, disturbed person, and that this movie simply wasn’t for me. For you, with your well-being “threatened” by the pandemic, politics, and whatever else troubles you, The Personal History of David Copperfield may be just what the doctor ordered this holiday season.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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