A week in which Secretary of State Hilary Clinton makes her first visit to Burma, meeting with the country's new leaders as well as with Aung San Suu Kyi, is a good week to open The Lady in the US. That said: "As generic as its title, Luc Besson's paralyzingly pious biopic of Burmese firebrand Aung San Suu Kyi is enough to make one look back fondly at the time he imagined Joan of Arc as a wide-eyed Milla Jovovich riot grrl," wrote Fernando F Croce at the House Next Door when he caught the film in Toronto. "As Suu Kyi, Michelle Yeoh tries vainly to bring human shades to a monochromatically noble role; as her unfailingly supportive British husband, David Thewlis does a fair Jim Broadbent impression. 'I hope she'll be rewarded for what she's done,' sighs one of the heroine's sons. Agreed, but surely something better than this colorless pageant should be in order."
The Guardian's Damon Wise found that "The Lady says so little about its subject, it would struggle to pass muster as a TV biopic…. Issues are discussed in brief and simple terms, and the regime is personified in the Idi Amin-like figure of The General — a vindictive, superstitious despot who makes his judgements based on tarot readings. Quite why Suu made the sacrifices she did, and why Aris let her make them, is never really explained, other than it was the right thing to do."
Adds Tim Grierson: "There are two stories going on in The Lady, and unfortunately neither is that gripping: He goes around trying to figure out how to free her, and she sits around waiting for news. On one level, that frustration is sort of the point. Besson wants us to understand how glacial the pace of change can be, requiring patience and perseverance. Likewise, Aris and Suu Kyi's relationship was threatened by their years apart, which often consisted of months of silence and uncertainty while Aris worked behind the scenes to secure her freedom. That's a delicate dramatic challenge, but Besson has mostly made the same old inspirational biopic we've come to expect, and that's simply too indelicate to work. The years of anguish and loneliness that Aung San Suu Kyi had to endure are difficult to fathom — as is the amount of mental and emotional fortitude she must have possessed to overcome those years. Unfortunately, The Lady doesn't get us any closer to comprehending such mysteries."
More from Kaleem Aftab (Independent), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 5/10) and David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter). Julie Makinen talks with Besson for the Los Angeles Times.
Update, 12/2: In a cover story for the Asian editions of Time, Hannah Beech writes that "the country that calls itself Myanmar is also a changed place. It's not just Suu Kyi's omnipresence that signals a remarkable transformation. In March, a nominally civilian government replaced the ruling junta. Despite vote rigging for the military-linked party in last year's elections and a leadership stacked with retired generals, the new government is starting to do something the previous regime failed to do: consider the needs of some 50 million Burmese. Economic reforms — from privatization to the creation of labor unions — are beginning to mend a tattered economy in which one-quarter of the country's budget is spent on the army. Some of the hundreds of political prisoners crowding Burma's notorious jails have been released. Once muzzled newspapers are loosening up, and the country's censorship czar has said that his bureau should be abolished. Even the country's flag and anthem were abruptly changed late last year (brighter colors, catchier tune), as if the regime wanted a visual and aural break from its disgraceful past. 'It's a brave new Burma,' a friend in Rangoon, the commercial capital, tells me. I laugh, but she's not joking."