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I don’t like to make sweeping generalizations—I love to, and The Hours is faggotry at its finest. Stephen Daldry directed this 2002 adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel starring three of the greatest actresses of this or any generation:
First of all, Daldry and Cunningham are both gays, as is producer Scott Rudin; The Hours is one of the great gay books, and it references one of the other great books, Mrs. Dalloway, by bisexual icon Virginia Woolf; and Ed Harris rounds out the cast as a gay writer dying from AIDS, while Streep plays a lesbian shacked up with national treasure Allison Janney, so the movie has gay bona fides upon gay bona fides, aside from these three goddesses acting the house down.
Though Daldry scored the gig, Pedro Almodóvar apparently wanted to direct his own version, and being perhaps the finest purveyor of female-centric melodrama since Douglas Sirk, that would’ve been amazing. Like, we probably would’ve had more of this surrealistic tea being spilled:
Speaking of Sirk, Todd Haynes delivered a Sirkian masterpiece in the equally gay 2002 film, Far From Heaven, which also starred Julianne Moore, in yet another one of her finest performances that led to two Oscar nominations at the 75th Academdy Awards—one of the toughest years in Academy history. Streep wasn’t even nominated for The Hours, but she was nominated that year for Adaptation, as well as simply showing up and breathing. Moore was then only the ninth performer to score two noms in one year. So with that, let’s get into these goddesses because that’s what really elevates The Hours.
Kidman plays Woolf, a deeply sensitive artist whose eyes and soul are starving for beauty and the cultural life she had in her beloved London; instead she’s stuck in a small town because she’s suffered several nervous breakdowns and is bipolar. Spoiler alert, she ends up walking into the ocean with stones in her pocket because draaaaamaaaa and life is generally unbearable.
Moore plays Laura, a housewife starving for affection in staid 1950s Americana—much like she did in Far From Heaven, accept this time around she’s the one with queer inklings—she plants a desperate kiss on Toni Collette…as anyone would— not her husband, perennial can-catch-it Dennis Quaid. Laura, too, tries to kill herself because it’s the early 2000s and gay Hollywood movies had to be sad as a rule.
And then there’s Streep, who in the early-00s was having a renaissance. She plays Clarissa, who just so happens to have the first name of the protagonist of Mrs. Dalloway, thus we’re all cleverly connected. Her life is empty, but not in the same, noticeable ways as Virginia or Laura, but in more subtle ways.
Like Mrs. Dalloway, her life is all about throwing parties, that is, it’s all superficial and lacking substance. This is pointed out to her by her bff Richard (Harris). And another spoiler alert—hey, the movie came out 17 years ago—Richard is Laura’s son, all grown up and grappling with his mother’s emotional baggage. Again, same.
Together, all these elements combine into one orgy of poetic sadness, high-brow melodrama, and exquisitely extravagant suffering. To paraphrase Addison DeWitt in the Citizen Kane of bitchy gay films, All About Eve, The Hours is maudlin and full of self-pity. It’s magnificent! What makes this such a gay movie—besides all the gays behind and in it—is the attention to detail in the minutiae of life, which is what Mrs. Dalloway and Cunningham’s The Hours is all about. “Always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.”
It’s in the way Meryl cracks eggs, the way Nikki Kids commits like nobody’s goddamn business—not only did she famously wear a prosthetic nose, but she learned to write with her right hand just as Woolf did. It’s the way Moore gamely dons old-ladyface to appear in the final act of the film once Richard—another spoiler alert—kills himself.
Through all the sadness, all the brilliant acting choices, all the death and sickness, The Hours is ultimately about the triumph of life in a lush, over-the-top sorta way, the gay way. And the gays, if anything, can find joy in the darkest of times. And we find and mine beauty in the saddest of moments. And no film does that quite like The Hours.
Kidman walked away with the Best Actress Oscar, even though she was only in the film for a cool 28 minutes, less than both Moore or Streep, but she brought that trademark Kidman intensity that has marked such roles as To Die For, Dogville, Birth, and Big Little Lies. But the entire film is an acting tour de force and with three of the best gals who ever did it on top of their game, along with a gay pedigree a mile and a half long, The Hours remains a master class in faggotry.