Oscar Bait, with a Stammer

So I finally got around to seeing “The King’s Speech” today – a late viewing, considering the movie’s important stature as a Best Picture Oscar contender and the fact that it opened five days ago. As you probably

know, this biographical drama centers on George VI’s (Colin Firth) ascension from duke to king and the debilitating speech impediment that hampered his progress. It’s sort of an early 20th century bromance, focusing more on the relationship between the timid monarch and his unorthodox speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) than it does George and his own dutiful wife (Helena Bonham Carter).

Firth, perfectly affecting an authentic stutter and gradually losing it, then regaining it, through the course of the picture, is the front-runner for Best Actor heading into Oscar season, and he deserves to be. Rush, too, will likely garner his second statuette as Best Supporting Actor. But I’m not sure the film is as good as their performances, despite widespread critical acclaim.

I hate to be a perpetual contrarian, but I see “The King’s Speech” as a far cry from earth-shattering cinema. It’s a finely crafted, old-fashioned prestige picture: the kind of movie that renegade critic-turned-filmmaker Francois Truffaut, polemecizing in the 1950s, would have derided as an example of the “Cinema of Quality.” Directorial distinction takes a backseat to pedestrian charm, the screenwriting follows the textbook blueprint of establishment, build-up, conflict and resolution, and every element in the picture’s making is tucked neatly in its right place, like perfectly situated mantelpiece figurines. It’s almost impervious to criticism because it never opens itself up enough to be criticized. Like the mediocre but well-coiffed and pearly-toothed politician who exists only to be elected, “The King’s Speech” is the kind of movie that exists only to win Oscars.

Which isn’t to say that you couldn’t do a lot worse this awards season than pile praise on “The King’s Speech.” “Inception,” to put it bluntly, would be a lot worse. But the film is not on par with other entries that will likely be nominated for awards only to walk away with nothing, such as “The Kids Are All Right” and “127 Hours.” And that is a tra… tra… tra… travesty.