THE STORY – Three sisters return to their home for the third wedding of their twice-widowed mother. But the mother and daughters are forced to revisit the past and confront the future, with help from a colorful group of unexpected wedding guests.
THE CAST – Kristin Scott Thomas, Scarlett Johansson, Sienna Miller, Freida Pinto & Emily Beecham
THE TEAM – Kristin Scott Thomas (Director/Writer) & John Micklethwait (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 135 Minutes
Acclaimed BAFTA-winning actress Kristen Scott Thomas has officially tried her hand at directing a film for the very first time with her feature directorial debut, “North Star.” The film premiered on the opening night of TIFF 2023 and stars Thomas herself as Diana, a twice-widowed mother of three. Along with acting in and co-writing the film with Scott Micklethwait, Thomas directs the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Sienna Miller, and Emily Beecham, who portray her daughters, brought together in adulthood for their mother’s third wedding. It’s a simple enough premise that turns out to be a simple film.
“North Star” teeters a line between genres but seems to identify itself as a “dramedy” that follows the down-to-earth familial story of a dysfunctional family of women and the theatrics that ensue once they all reunite back home. Through some clunky introductions of the sisters, we are told that Katherine (Johansson) is a stiff-lipped British Royal Navy captain who, due to her commitment to her job, has been neglecting her long-term girlfriend, (Freida Pinto) as well as their son. Georgina (Beecham) is a quiet nurse trying to handle juggling her family and work, as well as the discovery that her husband has been cheating on her. Then there’s Victoria (Miller), the famous actress of the trio, living in America and far removed from her otherwise mundane and unassuming English family.
It turns out that the majority of the abounding drama the sisters overflow with stems from the fact that none of the siblings can seem to let go of the past. The event that deeply troubles yet bonds them together the most is the untimely deaths of their late father and step-father, both of whom were lost in the war. Where the matriarch Diana (Thomas) and her daughters bump heads is the fact she has moved on and is at peace with the past, ready to commit to the new love of her life. On the other hand, her children feel discomfort and refuse to remember their beloved late fathers with anything other than a childlike and sugar-coated lens. As intriguing as this could be both narratively and character development-wise, “North Star” unfortunately fumbles in its writing and execution of this rather simple premise.
The film experiments with a multitude of pencil sketch-style flashbacks to their childhood that attempt to provide some exposition from the perspective of the girls as children. This is most often from Katherine’s point of view as she is burdened with more than a few regrets from the past, which eventually come to resurface, along with the hardships her sisters suffered as well. These animated flashbacks are a fascinating and inventive approach that just doesn’t fit seamlessly into the structure of the film whatsoever; in fact, it’s quite jarring and out of place, adding a touch more chaos to a film with an already messy structure and tone.
What is additionally out of place is the sporadic comedy that very rarely lands throughout the entirety of the film. Many times, it takes itself extremely seriously with verbal brawls between siblings regarding some heavy-handed topics, only to, moments later, jump straight into a drawn-out sex joke. The gags or bits meant to be humorous don’t often work, and on more than one occasion, the film unintentionally garnered some chuckles from the audience at its absurdity. It’s ultimately tonally incoherent, confusing as to what the audience is supposed to be thinking or feeling at any given time, and was done little to no favors in the editing room or on a technical level as these facets were fair and decent, but overall not noteworthy.
One exception to that observation is a surprisingly lovely setting as we witness the family of misfits converge together in their home — an inviting-looking English cottage nestled into the tree-dotted countryside. The locations and sets are pretty easy on the eyes with their cozy atmosphere and the ease at which the characters move around their environment. It’s believable that they’ve walked the creaky halls of that very cottage since childhood and spent countless hours down by the gurgling creek as young girls.
This is as far as the magic of immersion goes in the film, though, as the performances, albeit serviceable, are ultimately forgettable. Johansson carries her character of Katherine adequately throughout, though she stumbles more than a comfortable amount of times with a barely-passing British accent. It’s worth noting that she has the most to work with character-wise and seems to give a decent shot with the material she’s given, yet she still lacks any chemistry with her supposed long-term girlfriend as well as her son. Beecham as Georgina is sufficient enough as well, pulling off a simultaneously exhausted mother and betrayed wife nearing the end of her wits. Miller’s Victoria is amusingly out of touch and adds a bit of droll energy to the mix. The trio makes up a decently believable brigade of siblings with solid bonds and long-winded, intertwining histories despite their differences and occasional spats. Then there’s Thomas as their mother, unwavering in her decent performance as an elderly woman who knows what she wants in life and deeply loves the girls she raised all by herself.
The film is, in all honesty, an honorable attempt at a tribute to Thomas’ late father and step-father (the obvious inspiration to the story), which makes it all the more unfortunate that it drops the ball more often than it’s able to keep one in its grasp. “North Star” had some solid potential to be a witty wedding comedy, complete with bridesmaids’ shenanigans and a fun, star-studded ensemble. Instead, it’s quite muddled with poor writing and brimming with mundane and forgettable melodrama. If the writing wasn’t so generic the script not so predictable, perhaps “North Star” could’ve had a better chance at charming its audience. For now, with its LifeTime-esque qualities, the film would be an entertaining ‘girls’ night’ watch on streaming to perhaps throw on in the background.