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Girl with a Pearl Earring Review

By Shawn McKenzie 01/18/2004

Are you an uncultured slob like me?  Do you get bored in an art museum after about an hour?  If you are, then trust me…you won’t like Girl with a Pearl Earring.


In Delft, Holland in 1665, a 17-year-old girl named Griet (Scarlett Johansson) has been sent by her parents (Chris McHallem and Gabrielle Reidy) to work as a maid to support their family after her father goes blind in a kiln explosion.  She goes to work for the home of master painter Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth) and his wife Catharina (Essie Davis.)  Catharina is always pregnant, but Johannes hasn’t been putting out enough artwork lately to support their lifestyle.  He mostly paints portraits for Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), a coarse, wealthy man who delights in holding his commissions over the Vermeer family.  Van Ruijven’s money keeps them going, but Catharina is jealous of her husband’s work, since he is so reclusive when he paints.  Catharina’s mother, Maria Thins (Judy Parfitt), controls the family’s finances, and will put the needs of Johannes above those of her daughter because he is the cash cow.  When a domestic servant’s argument results in Griet having to move her sleeping quarters from the basement to the attic, fellow maid Tanneke (Joanna Scanlan) arranges it so that she has to clean Johannes’ studio.  Johannes starts to become attracted to her after she displays an eye for art.  This doesn’t make Catharina happy, since she herself is never even allowed to go into her husband’s studio.  Johannes and Catharina’s daughter, Cornelia (Alakina Mann), also doesn’t like Griet, and constantly tries to undermine her.  Pieter (Cillian Murphy), the son of Paul (Geoff Bell), the local butcher, tries to court Griet, but she is more attracted to Johannes because of the common interest in art.  After Van Ruijven commissions a portrait of Griet, the artist and the maid begin working together, and his painting of her soon drives a wedge into the family that threatens to blow them apart.


At the end of the movie, they show the famous painting that inspired the book written by Tracy Chevalier, which the movie is based on.  You know what…I didn’t recognize the painting at all!  Does that mean I have no culture?  Possibly, but it doesn’t matter anyway.  I do know what is boring, and that is what this film is to me.  I admit that I occasionally get a little technical in my reviews, but in the end, it is all about whether or not the movie entertained me.  This one did not.


The acting is fine, as evidenced by the Golden Globe nod for Johansson for this film, but that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable.  I will say that Wilkinson looked really out of place in his role, and I think they should have gotten a different actor to play the aristocrat.  Firth was impressive only in the fact that I have gotten used to seeing him playing roles in “charming British comedies.”  That still doesn’t make me care to see this movie again.

It’s funny when seeing movies like Girl with a Pearl Earring feels like eating your vegetables.  You know they are good for you, but you nonetheless don’t want to eat (or watch) them.  I’ll give you a great example:  the winner of 1996’s Oscar Best Picture was The English Patient.  It beat both Fargo and Jerry Maguire in that category.  Now, tell me honestly…which movie are you more likely to want to see again?  The point I’m making is that just because a movie is stylish and arty doesn’t make it entertaining.  It doesn’t have enough hype to get a Best Picture nomination (due mainly to the screener ban), but whatever it gets, I won’t support it.


Get the Tracy Chevalier novel that the movie is based on:

Buy this book at

Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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