Some say that behind every great man is a great woman. If this is the case, then Nora Barnacle, the wife of James Joyce, must be a towering persona. Many consider Joyce one of the greatest writers ever, and people still shudder when thinking back on reading Ulysses in college. This movie focuses on their formative years, beginning with their meeting in 1904 and ending about a decade later. The movie, which takes place in Ireland and Italy, looks great. The acting is great, but much of the motivation is missing. The story becomes more complete only if one has some prior knowledge of Joyce. Without any, this is just a strained relationship between two (exceptionally randy at times) people. Even a rudimentary knowledge about who Joyce is and what he wrote makes the film a much more enjoyable experience.

Much of the movie details the love-hate relationship between Barnacle (Susan Lynch, Beautiful Creatures, Deceit) and Joyce (Ewan McGregor, Eye of the Beholder, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace). Their attraction is immediate, and mocked by Joyce's peers. He is a rising author while Nora is just works in a hotel. They move to Italy to escape Ireland, where they have two children, but have yet to marry. Italy is fantastic for Joyce, but Barnacle hates it. She is alone, cannot speak the language, and must rely on Joyce for everything. This entire time, their relationship swings wildly. Joyce is an intensely jealous man, and, according to Barnacle, experienced so much rejection that he looks for it where there is none. So when Barnacle speaks with other men, Joyce throws a fit. He focuses this rage on writing.

Nora, based on the biography by Brenda Maddox, tells the story of Joyce's wife, but misses an important point. For most of the movie, the focus is primarily on Nora. Although this is a movie about Barnacle, Director Pat Murphy (Anne Devlin) doesn't realize that the lives of both intertwine to a high degree, and taking some of the focus away from Joyce hinders the overall narrative. The motivations of Joyce remain somewhat of a mystery, causing his actions and reactions to look more bizarre than they actually may be. Exploring Joyce's character would only give a fuller picture of Barnacle. Worst of all, Murphy skips a three-year period from when they first move to Italy to shortly after the birth of their son. Barnacle's bitterness for Murphy grew exponentially during this period, and although the reasons she hated Joyce are clear, the reasons why she loved him during this time are not. Murphy opens up Joyce near the end, which is by far the best portion of the movie. Both characters have frank discussions about what drives them, and Murphy lays bare their relationship to each other. Barnacle and Joyce come to certain realizations about the love that they have for each other, and this is what cements the movie.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 46 minutes, Rated R for some strong sexuality and related dialogue.

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