Interesting experience! I just watched the film International Velvet, which is a knock-off of the great classic, National Velvet. The differences between the two are striking — and speak volumes about the art of story telling and character development.
Now National Velvet is definitely a hard act to follow. First, you have the fabulous young Elizabeth Taylor and Mickie Rooney, along with a terrific supporting cast. Then you have a heart-warming coming-of-age story with drama, conflict, confusion, and a thrilling horse race. But what really makes this film special in my mind isn’t just a strong storyline but the way in which the tale is told through the eyes of the film’s main characters.
And what characters! We have headstrong Velvet, who’s constantly at odds with everyone as the film opens, battling her way through life and struggling with adolescent longings. And we have Mi, the pugnacious but wounded young trainer, who’s blustering his way up in the world and taking plenty of hard knocks while he’s at it. Each of these two leading characters has a strong arc and when they intersect, it’s exciting. We see them grow and change each other along the way. We see them combine forces to achieve a goal they both feel is worthy of their best effort.
International Velvet has an A-list cast: Christopher Plummer, Anthony Hopkins, and Tatum O’Neal. But it has a lackluster storyline and a set of characters who go through the motions of growing, but don’t really seem to change. Tatum O’Neal plays a teenager who’s lost her parents and goes to live with her aunt in Europe, who’s supposed to be the adult “Velvet” from National Velvet — a role that Elizabeth Taylor wisely passed on. Tatum sulks, then adjusts, and ultimately wins Olympic Gold. But it all seems so pat and predictable: no real emotion, no real conflict, no real breakthrough. It’s flat, instead of uplifting and satisfying. Let’s innovate, not imitate. Write on!