In 2016, the New York Film Fest offered up Isabelle Huppert in Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle.” Her performance in the film is outstanding and her Academy Award nomination for it is a well earned one (as is her Golden Globe win). Now, the actress is back at NYFF this year in a far different role with “Mrs. Hyde.”
A modern day reworking of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Mrs. Hyde” finds Huppert as the timid technical school teacher, Marie Géquil. Walked all over by her students, Géquil has no control of her classroom. All of that begins to change however when, working in her lab, she is struck by some electricity and she… changes.
Written and directed by Serge Bozon, “Mrs. Hyde” is an unremarkable movie. It is not terribly concerned with Géquil’s new abilities to burn things, nor with how she truly goes about transforming her class of less-than-amiable students into something better. This last is somehow related to her devising an end of the year project for them (something technical students are not required to do) involving the building of a Faraday cage, but the film never actually offers them doing anything with the project itself. That is, one day she announces to the class that they will be building the cage and the next time we see it, it is finished. And yet, despite it being completed, the students have no idea how it works or why, leading to the supposition that they do not in fact build it, but rather Géquil does, and if she does it, what kind of end of year project is it for them?
“Mrs. Hyde” is not concerned with such things. It doesn’t even seem terribly concerned with the transformation of Géquil into Hyde beyond having those around her question any changes in her attitude and tossing in a few unexpected abilities on her part (and, it must be said, some inventive imagery of her). While she is able to do terrible, and perhaps uncontrollable, things as Hyde, the story is much more about her going from a meek teacher to something better and helping her students, chiefly one named Malik (Adda Senani), along the way. The film sparks memories of the Harry Allard book, “Miss Nelson is Missing!” as much as it does the tale of Jekyll & Hyde.
As a performer, Huppert is still captivating, drawing the audience’s attention as much here as she did in “Elle,” but the character she is given is nowhere near as deep, and the film does not leave the same sort of lasting impression. The biggest question one will have after watching the movie is why any of it had to be tied in so overtly to the Jekyll & Hyde story.
A little over 90 minutes long, “Mrs. Hyde” is a relatively short film, but not one that is better for it. When the credits roll there is still too much not understood about the change she has undergone and why she was so timid prior to its occurrence. This is an individual who seems incredibly ill-suited for her chosen profession at the outset of the movie and, moreover, one who doesn’t enjoy it. How then have things turned out this way for her? What is her relationship with her husband? What is the relationship with their neighbor? Why is the principal played for laughs?
“Mrs. Hyde” never manages to get to the core of any of these issues. Consequently, despite Huppert’s presence, it is a movie difficult (at best) to recommend.
photo credit: New York Film Festival/Les Films Pelleas