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The Souvenir Movie Review

The Souvenir (2019) movie poster The Souvenir

US Theatrical Release: May 17, 2019 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Joanna Hogg

Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne (Julie), Tom Burke (Anthony), Tilda Swinton (Rosalind), Richard Ayoade (Patrick), Jaygann Ayeh (Marland), Jack McMullen (Jack), Hannah Ashby Ward (Tracey), Frankie Wilson (Frankie), Barbara Peirson (Anthony's Mother), James Dodds (Anthony's Father), Ariane Labed (Garance)


With the lead role of an A24-distributed drama, 21-year-old Honor Swinton Byrne seems destined to join the ranks of indie film darlings, ranks her mother Tilda has found herself in since Honor was just a child. Unfortunately,
Swinton Byrne's breakout role comes in The Souvenir, a critically acclaimed work that for ordinary moviegoers will rank among the year's least enjoyable releases.

The Souvenir is written and directed by Joanna Hogg, a British filmmaker whose film school graduation piece, 1986's Caprice, was one of Tilda's first acting gigs. While the older Swinton has gone on to countless high-profile roles including an Oscar-winning turn in Michael Clayton, Hogg eventually graduated from television to feature film with Unrelated (2008). She followed that up with Archipelago (2010) and Exhibition (2013), films well regarded by critics but generally unknown by the public despite all three containing some of the earliest big screen work of Tom Hiddleston, Marvel's Loki.

Having told the stories of families and couples, Hogg turns her attention inward on The Souvenir, a film you don't immediately recognize as being set in the 1980s. If you haven't researched the film beforehand, you also won't know that this is an autobiographical work. Swinton Byrne plays Julie, Hogg's surrogate, an upper middle class film school student who with some regularity has to ask her wealthy mother Rosalinda (Tilda) for money.

Joanna Hogg's "The Souvenir" focuses on the toxic relationship of Anthony (Tom Burke) and Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne).

Julie has the seeds of an idea to make a movie, but she has to secure backing and all that. Assisting her on that front, at least initially, is Anthony (Tom Burke), a businessman of sorts who becomes her boyfriend. It's only June, but mark my words: there will not be a romantic relationship on the big screen in 2019 that makes you feel more uncomfortable than Julie and Anthony's.

He uses heroin, to her utter obliviousness. He repeatedly asks her for money. And at one point, she comes home to find their apartment ransacked and robbed, a crime we suspect (and is soon confirmed) to be nothing more than Anthony's doing. He's apparently pawned old family jewels to get his fix.

Surely, confessing to that has to be the end of the relationship, right? No. Because Julie loves him or something, despite him being nearly as unattractive on the outside as he is on the inside.

Rosalind (Tilda Swinton) checks in on her daughter (Honor Swinton Byrne) and her beau (Tom Burke) in Joanna Hogg's "The Souvenir."

The film narrowly stays under the two-hour mark, but stands as a serious endurance challenge all the same. On occasion, Hogg cuts away from this painful trainwreck of a relationship to provide glimpses at Julie's foray into filmmaking, which are largely devoid of interest and substance. The mother-daughter exchanges between the real-life mother and daughter are limited and inconsequential until what is seemingly meant to be a heartbreaking climax (and plays as anything but).

There can be great storytelling value in drawing from your life, as modern filmmakers like Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig have demonstrated.
But those types of personal movies have intrinsic entertainment value. Hogg's story may mean something to her and putting them up on the screen likely functioned as some kind of exorcism of old demons. But it makes for lifeless art cinema. By all means, artists should tell stories that make you uncomfortable, but this one offers nothing to be gained from the discomfort. You could watch a two-hour loop of Tommy Wiseau uttering "They say love is blind" in The Room and probably find greater joy and deeper meaning in that.

Bizarrely, Hogg isn't stopping here. Just last week, she began principal photography on what -- I kid you not -- is being called The Souvenir: Part II, with the Swintons reprising their roles and Robert Pattinson joining the fray. I guess on the plus side, you can only go up from here, which for a sequel is most rare.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Dead Don't DiePhotograph
Tilda Swinton: Suspiria (2018) • SnowpiercerA Bigger SplashOnly Lovers Left AliveDoctor Strange
Tom Burke: Only God ForgivesThe Invisible Woman
On Chesil BeachAn EducationBlue Valentine

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Reviewed July 1, 2019.

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