Misery is review by S.G. Liput of Rhyme & Reason
And laud those they’re enamored of
And worship every word they write
And watch their windows late at night
And read about their lives and likes
And help them when misfortune strikes
And care for them when they are hurt
And compliment and maybe flirt,
Encourage them to write their best
And punish them if they protest
And show them sides one does not show
And never ever let them go!
MPAA rating: R
When I first counted down my top 365 films, I have no idea why I forgot Misery. Rob Reiner’s second adaptation of a Stephen King story (after Stand By Me) is among his best films and won Kathy Bates an Oscar for her progressively scary portrayal of crazed fan Annie Wilkes.
This wouldn’t be a Stephen King tale without a writer character, in this case James Caan as Paul Sheldon, a novelist who has earned wide acclaim for a historical drama series about Misery Chastain. With so many writers in Stephen King’s bibliography, it makes me wonder if he conceives his stories by imagining himself in a frightening situation. What would it be like to have an accident and be forced to depend upon your biggest fan, only to find out that she’s a nutcase? Such is the situation for poor Mr. Sheldon, whose broken legs make him dependent on the good will of the seemingly benevolent Annie Wilkes, with her cutesy euphemisms (“dirty birdy,” “cockadoodie”) and her cozy snow-bound cottage.
Stephen King movies have a long history of making ordinary things excessively creepy, from hotel halls and a Plymouth Fury to sewer drains and Johnny Carson’s intro, and Reiner continued that trend, plunging various scenes in impending dread with just an approaching car or a turning key or a ceramic penguin. Paul’s tentative exploration of Annie’s house while she is away is especially edge-of-your-seat, despite his being confined to a wheelchair. Much of the tension and the film’s effectiveness is owed to Kathy Bates, who creates Annie’s swinging moods with terrifying sincerity. I can attest that there are people like that out there, people who seem perfectly normal on the outside but change for the worse at the slightest provocation. In some ways, her unpredictability makes her scarier than many more obvious villains. I mean, I’ve empathized with characters unsatisfied with a story’s ending, like Pat in Silver Linings Playbook or Gus in The Fault in Our Stars, but I’ve never before seen someone’s disfavor expelled so violently.
As the depths of Annie’s insanity are revealed over time, Paul’s determination to escape and his ability to act grows, even after her particularly painful method of keeping him under control. By the time their mutual enmity comes to a head in intense and bloody fashion, the viewer wants to get away from this madwoman almost as much as Paul does. The anxiety that this film produces is its success, as are the wholly believable performances from Bates, Caan, and the lesser players, such as Lauren Bacall as Paul’s agent, Richard Farnsworth as a curious sheriff, and Frances Sternhagen as his sarcastic wife. Sure to make people pause before announcing themselves as anyone’s “number-one fan,” Misery literalizes the disturbing relationship between “fan” and “fanatic.”
Best line: (Sheriff Buster’s wife Virginia, teasing him about a fake affair after he collects Sheldon’s novels) “Well, whoever she is, she sure likes to read a lot.”