Stephen Daldry’s wheel-within-a-wheel take on Michael Cunningham’s eponymous novel works about as well as it can, and that’s faint praise. He opens with Virginia Woolf’s (prosthetically-altered Nicole Kidman) suicide to set up the necessary “Mrs. Dalloway” premises, then shifting quickly to 1950s suburban housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) and modern-day New York publicist Clarissa Brown (Meryl Streep), each one affected by the novel’s troubled musings. Fair enough, but the story’s fractured needs prevent the film from establishing a single accessible inner sanctum.
Clarissa, a lesbian, is obsessed with helping friend and gay poet Richard (Ed Harris), who’s wasting away from AIDS. Pregnant Laura wants to throw the perfect party for her husband to affirm the meaning of her marriage, and her own life. Woolf, meanwhile, is given to increasingly unbearable migraines and inched closer to the drowning the movie began with.
The art of interconnection is seamlessness. But this is not seamless. The portraits are fine but forced. Acting is excellent but evident. The film probes selflessness and selfishness yet falls short of knowing its own mind. That’s because its credibility and poignancy depend entirely on the sum of impressive but jagged parts.