Why doesn’t this story of lively little Louise Brooks’ escape from Wichita for the cosmopolitan pleasures of New York City and modern dance (before she heads off to become one of cinema’s early It Girls) work? It ain’t the fault of Haley Lu Richardson, who plays Brooks like the sassy teenage bundle of damage, rebellion, and sad sophistication she most likely was, given what we learn about her. And it’s mostly not the fault of co-star Elizabeth McGovern, even though she doesn’t manage to secure the spotlight for her starring role as the unhappy wife who accompanies Brooks as a pretense for figuring out her own identity. No, pin this one on director Michael Engler and screenwriter Julian Fellowes — working here between the end of Downton Abbey the TV show and Downton Abbey the movie — who can’t seem to help lending this very American story an air of English reserve and politesse. Between the speakeasies, the orphanages, the sexual energy, and the general air of corset-loosening, the movie should throb and thrum. It doesn’t.
Length: 1 hour, 43 minutes