This movie should have been a LOT better than it turned out to be! One can imagine the meeting at the producer's office at which it was pitched: "OK! We're going to retell the story of
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde... only from the point of view of Dr. Jeckyll's maid, Mary Reilly! Let's get Julia Roberts in the title role and John Malkovich to play Jekyll and Hyde!" Sounds like a winner, no?
One is never quite sure who is to blame for all the missed opportunities here; whether the studio wanted to make one film and the director another, or whether director Stephen Frears just made bad choices, but this movie never quite jells. Indecision seems to plague it at almost every turn. When it should be scarey, it settles for being merely creepy. When it should be creepy, it is merely weird. When it should be suspenseful, it goes conventional.
Julia Roberts seems more constrained in this picture than Winnona Rider and Sadie Frost do in their corsets in "Bram Stoker's Dracula." She stays in her "wounded bird" persona throughout the entire film. The trouble is we are given no preamble to explain why should be that way, and no development to explain why she should stay that way.
John Malkovich, ever the unconventional actor, makes an astounding choice with his character, choosing to play Dr. Jekyll
not as the obsessed mad scientist we're so familiar with, but as a doomed Byronic romantic. His Mr. Hyde is just the flip side of that doomed romanticism, blatently sexual, full of spontaneous, unrestrained libido. It's a brilliant choice. If
Frears had picked up this cue and run with it, we would have had an interesting film about the "fallen angel syndrome" which has been the bane of the dating scene for the last 50 years. Some of the single women in the audience might have actually stopped asking: "Where are all the good men?" long enough to ask themselves: "Why am I always so attracted to bad boys?" Alas!
Hollywood today is either incapable or unwilling to make a movie that asks its audience to think!
So, instead we get a film which can never make up its mind whether it wants to be a horror movie, a "doomed love" story or a "Julia Roberts vehicle." By trying to be all three at once, it fails to be any of the above.