Of the Best Picture winners I have seen so far, Tom Jones has got to be one of my least favorite. I can understand why it probably won. It was bold at the time, a little experimental, and different approach to the typical British period piece. When you watch it now, in 2020, it doesn’t work the way it must have back then. Since 1963, we’ve gotten many comedic and bold period pieces that stay faithful to the genre as much as they draw attention to it and make fun of it.
Tony Richardson and screenwriter John Osborne were definitely having fun. They use several wipe transitions, there’s plenty of iris shots, and they break the fourth wall quite a few times. By the time the credits roll, it feels like Richardson has done just about anything and everything. He even starts the film out like it’s a silent film. As much as I admire the ‘let’s just have fun’ approach, it doesn’t always make for an intelligible film.
Tom Jones felt chaotic and nonsensical to me. The cinematography is certainly interesting, but it sometimes feels like the shots were all put in a blender and that’s how they got the edit. The cinematography and editing at times felt like absolute chaos. I realize that was part of the point, but it didn’t work for me. I don’t think their approach complemented the setting, acting, or story for that matter.
I found myself constantly checking my watch. I struggled during the first half, mildly enjoyed the third quarter, and limped during the last quarter to the finish line. Tom Jones is a little over two hours, but it felt like it was over three hours long. I’ve never been a fan of quick, short scenes. I’ve noticed that they can often result in a movie feeling longer if not executed well. There are some points in Tom Joneswhere Richardson and Osborne bounce from scene to scene quickly like it’s a tennis match. The pacing is so inconsistent that watching Tom Jones was exhausting.
When I look back on Tom Jones I still don’t really understand what it wanted to be. I know it wants to be a comedy, but why? There are other times it seems like it doesn’t want to be one. Oftentimes Tom Jones doesn’t transition well from scene to scene tonally. There are hints of biting satire and social commentary in there, but it commits way more to being a late-night comedy, overshadowing its other possible intentions.
When I look at Tom Jones through that lens, I simply didn’t find it that funny. I didn’t find the situations that funny, the techniques felt forced sometimes to overcompensate from what was on the screen, and you can only see a man-child sleep with women so many times for comedic purposes. Much of Tom Jones feels very sexist.
It’s hard to try to watch Tom Jones for anything other than for its potential comedic value because the characters are pretty unlikable. They’re all pretty terrible people and you probably won’t root for them. They also receive no consequences for their actions. Tom Jones is practically rewarded for his misogyny and narcissism. I’m growing so tired of watching movies of entitled rich people being entitled and rich without any consequence.
Even though I didn’t enjoy Tom Jones at least that’s one less Best Picture winner I have left to watch now.