“You may call me Hitch; hold the cock!”

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On Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to go to an advance screening of Hitchcock hosted by the Philadelphia Film Society at the Prince Music Theater thanks to a roommate hookup. The last time I was at the Prince, it was during 2010’s Film Festival screening of Black Swan, so I’ve got a pretty good track record with the theater. As an exciting aside, the Film Society will be reopening the Roxy Theater in Rittenhouse Square for year-round programming, which is a stone’s throw from my office. Hello, Awesome Independent and Award-garnering Films All the Time at My Disposal. I may have to join the film society – ANYWAY.

All rambling aside, this Sacha Gervasi-directed biopic manages to skirt the trap of a plodding, semi-monotonous pace that many movies-based-on-real-people-with-real-lives tend to fall into. It’s snappy and lighthearted, while still alluding to the voyeurism and obsession that propelled Alfred Hitchcock’s successful career.

The 98-minute movie is bookended by narration from Anthony Hopkin’s Hitchcock himself, first jarringly introducing us to the real-life murders that inspired the novel Psycho and informed his film. Hitch keeps revisiting the accounts of these real murders, imagining himself watching them happen, then interacting with the murderer, and then implicating himself in the murders.

Watching modern, recognizable faces (who let Jessica Biel in a period movie? Just kidding, she was solid, and Scarlett Johansson was obviously built to wear full skirts and headscarves) recreate iconic scenes from Psycho balanced out the discomfort the viewer feels watching Hitch and wife Alma Reville (the gracefully brilliant Helen Mirren) go through marital turmoil. (Speaking of Helen Mirren, this.) The film centers around their dynamic – Alma taking care of Hitch as he obsesses over his next project, his cultural relevance at the age of 60, his total lack of attention to his health or his wife. Alma has thrived as his uncredited editor and essentially his manager throughout their years together, and now she is feeling the weight of always being one step behind the great Alfred Hitchcock, and largely ignored. She dabbles in the idea of an affair, both professional and personal, as she helps someone else adapt his screenplay at a cozy beach house. She never does the deed, a true lady through and through. Hitch watches his leading ladies through a hole in their dressing room walls, though all he does is look and imagine. He never cheats either, and ScarJo’s Janet Leigh asserts toward the end of the film to Alma that he was a perfect gentleman throughout, and pleasure to work with, even though he scares the bejeezus out of her in order to achieve the shower scene he wants.

I have two favorite scenes in this movie, two moments where I could keenly appreciate the talent of the two leads.

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At the opening of Psycho, Hitch stands outside the theater, periodically peeking through the door to check the audience’s faces, hoping for shock and terror and excitement as they first see the legendary shower scene. As the score surges, he stands in the lobby, directing the highs and lows of the music and exalting in the audience reaction. A lone usher watches Hitch’s exaltation as he sweeps the floor. I couldn’t help smiling during this dialogue-less scene.

Helen Mirren’s moment of glory is a monologue about living in Hitch’s shadow, hinted at in the trailer. Paraphrased, “I cheer with you when the reviews are good and I cry with you when they are bad.” She gave me chills.

Once this movies opens to wider release on December 7th, I definitely recommend it to all of you. Even you. Yes, you. For reviews that are real reviews, you can read here or here.

There you have it. This weekend I’ll be Christmas shopping, doing odd projects, and eating at this tonight. Check back next week after PPAC’s Philly Photo Day Exhibit opening on the 6th!

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