More narratively metronomic than cinematically metered, Brazilian filmmaker Bruno Barretto's "Reaching for the Moon" examines the mid-20th century love affair between award-winning American poet laureate Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and gregarious, politically connected Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires).
In 1951, Bishop traveled to South America for two weeks of inspiration, but after meeting and staying with Soares in her picturesque mountain-side home, two weeks became 15 years. Overall, it's an inviting subject: the hard work and ecstasy of meshed artistic lives mixed with cultural displacement, until personal demons (alcoholism, depression) and political changes arise and loyalties are tested. The performances are steady: Pires conveys a charismatic, energetic masculine eroticism, and when Otto can shed a discomfiting stiffness, she effortlessly channels a Susan Hayward-ish type of steeliness and vulnerability.
But everything ultimately gives way to the stately, simplistic, inevitable pace of by-the-numbers biopics, from some woefully tinny, hit-and-run screenwriting to the usual difficulties surrounding the dramatization of an author's craft. The writing of "One Art," Bishop's great poem about loss, is regrettably used as a bookending device, which just strips it of its heartbreaking complexity. Such choices do neither poetry nor movies a service.
"Reaching for the Moon"
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Playing: Sundance Sunset 5, West Hollywood; Laemmle's Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; and Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.