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The Girl on HBO

Sienna Miller rocks the house as Tippi Hedren, the object of Alfred Hitchcock’s obsession in “The Girl”. She creates a stunning character that’s part impersonation and part terrific re-acting. She’s equal portions vulnerable, strident, proud and compliant. I loved what she did with her performance, and she’s quite beautiful in portraying the inexperienced star of 1963’s “The Birds”. Toby Jones, seemingly enjoying a mini-career of giving the “other” version of famous people in films released in close proximity(his take on Truman Capote hit the big screen the year after Phillip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar for “Capote”, and of course, Anthony Hopkins portrays Hitch in the current film screening in theaters, “Hitchcock”.). Jones’ work has to rely on a great deal more of outright mimicry, unfortunately. Toby really had no choice—Alfred Hitchcock is still way too iconic for any actor to drift too far from the established persona. Jones does manage to get across Hitchcock’s immaturity and inexperience in dealing with women, however. But Ms. Miller transcends the material. It’s her show, and she impressed me greatly.

“The Birds” was poised to be Alfred Hitchcock’s follow-up to 1960’s “Psycho”—possibly Hitch’s most identifiable work. And according to “The Girl”, after failing to secure the now-retired Princess Grace Kelly, he decided to cast an unknown actress. Nordic blonde Tippi Hedren(Ms. Miller)is spotted in a commercial by Alfred’s wife, Alma(the always solid Imelda Staunton). Hedren is a model and a single mother(to a young girl who would grow up to become actress Melanie Griffith!), with limited acting experience. No matter—Hitch is entranced. He calls her in for a meeting, and immediately casts her as the lead in “The Birds”—to the shock and delight of the starstruck Tippi. At first enchanted by Hitchcock’s behavior as an “English gentleman”, things quickly and steadily roll downhill for the starlet. After some mildly inappropriate encounters, the infatuated director tries to force himself on Ms. Hedren in the back of a limousine. She denies him and he retaliates. In the film’s most powerful scene, Tippi Hedren is  made to endure take after take of real birds flying at her instead of the earlier proposed mechanical ones. Can she quit? Sure, but aspiring actresses don’t get these kind of roles offered every day. Others would be ecstatic to replace her. Plus, she has a daughter to raise—so, she carries on. Eventually Tippi signs a multi-year contract, and when “The Birds” is a smash in 1963—Hitchcock again casts Hedren in the lead role of his 1964 follow-up film, “Marnie”. But the director’s advances towards his star only escalate to the point where he demands she supply him with sexual favors for all he has done for her.

The main issue with “The Girl” is that it’s all surface representation, and offers next to nothing involving any kind of psychological depth. There is very little “why” supplied concerning Hitch’s behavior, and although I’m not asking for a cerebral study of the man, the ruminations offered are tepid at best. And being that Gwyneth Hughes script for “The Girl” puerilely gives us a simpering gargoyle with an affinity for dirty limericks, there’s not much Toby Jones can do to elevate this material. The screenplay, based on a book by Donald Spoto, is all about being pro-Tippi. Which is fine, there’s room for it—and it’s not like there’s no one speaking for Alfred. Renowned starlets Kim Novak and Eva Marie Saint have publicly denounced the depiction of their late boss in this film. But others have certainly backed up Ms. Hedren’s version of events, as well. And if you’ve never seen “Marnie”, Hitch’s mostly ignored and long misunderstood classic, you should know that the psychological aspects of that ambitious project play even richer when allowing that Tippi’s tale is all true. So, take a look at “The Girl” for an inoffensive, uncomplicated peek at a behind-the-scenes director employing a casting couch mentality. But admire it for the work of Sienna Miller, who brilliantly supplies Tippi Hedren with the last laugh.       Grade:  B-

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