The Hours is fourth-fifths of the best movie of the year. An unabashedly "difficult" picture featuring an amazing cast, and with a script adapted from Michael Cunningham's supposedly unadaptable novel, The Hours is well-made at every turn, yet has clearly been edited down so much from its intended length that the finished product is adversely affected.
Combining the tales of three women in three different periods, all at least partially lesbian and all connected to Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway". The first tells the story of Woolf herself (a heavily made-up Nicole Kidman) writing the novel, the second that of Fifties housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) and the third of present-day Greenwich Village lesbian Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep).
The shifting back and forth in time can be quite difficult from a filmmaking standpoint, but the team of director Daldry and screenwriter/playwright David Hare (Via Dolorosa) pull it off in a skillful and entertaining manner, with minimal confusion. The only structural problem with the script is that it doesn't go quite as deep as it could.
While longwindedness is a Hollywood staple, especially around Oscar time, The Hours is the rare film of its kind that actually feels shorter than its seeming natural length - it appears to have been cut down to exactly two hours for commercial and awards purposes, when 10-15 minutes more almost certainly would have brought it to masterpiece level. Like Scorsese's Gangs of New York, one gets the distinct impression from watching The Hours that large chunks are missing of what was meant to be seen.
The film is full of great supporting actors (Ed Harris, John C. Reilly, Toni Collette, Miranda Richardson, etc.) whose parts have been shrunken down to almost nothing - Allison Janney's appearance as Streep's lover is practically a non-speaking role. Yet somehow a scene featuring Jeff Daniels (as you've never seen him, in stone-cold-gay mode) goes on considerably longer than its logical length.
The performances, regardless, are phenomenal, especially in Julianne Moore's case. In a year where Streep and Moore have already both given highly acclaimed performances (in Adaptation and Far From Heaven, respectively), their work in The Hours isn't overshadowed.
The Woolf passages, surprisingly enough, are the film's weakness. Kidman, with all her talent, just can't emote convincingly through all those facial prosthetics. Even goofier is Moore's old-age makeup in one scene, which makes her look uncannily like New York gossip columnist Liz Smith (Smith herself was long a closeted lesbian -could this be a coincidence?)
The issue of lesbianism in the film is dealt with tastefully and matter-of-factly, especially in Streep's case. The words "gay" and "lesbian" aren't even spoke in the film, as gayness isn't even really the true subject of the film; female depression is. It's not Go Fish, nor is it the type of lesbianism likely to appeal to Howard Stern fans.
The Hours deserved to be seen all by itself for the great cast, the best assembled for a Hollywood film in many years. But it's also a highly enjoyable and profound (if incomplete) filmgoing experience.