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What's the story?
Based on Tracy Chevalier's novel about the girl wearing a pearl earring in a portrait by artist Johannes Vermeer, this film tells the story of Griet (Scarlett Johansson). The young girl is hired as a maid to the chaotic Vermeer household, where everything depends on the productivity of an artist who works very slowly and the whims of a patron who may be more interested in the model than the paintings. Griet wears the nun-like head covering of the era that hides her hair. She does what she is told and keeps to herself. But she notices things, like that she should not wash the windows in Vermeer's studio because it will change the look of the light he is trying to capture. Vermeer (Colin Firth), not a person of words either, responds to the way she responds to the art. He asks her to help him mix his paints and shows her some of his painting techniques. His patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), is drawn to Griet. And since his interest is vital to the survival of the Vermeer family, Vermeer's steely mother-in-law (Judy Parfitt) will do anything she can to keep him happy.
Is it any good?
The gorgeously filmed GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING is a commentary on artistic imperatives, the creative process, and the way we look at things. And power, money, and sex. The movie superbly captures the shadows and lights of Vermeer's Delft. Johannson's face is as complex and haunting as the portrait of the anonymous girl she portrays. She is a marvel of delicate expression. When at last she removes her headdress and we see her hair it is almost unbearably intimate and erotic.
But the movie is less successful at addressing some of the issues it raises about the other members of the household, including the clashes of art and commerce, sex and power, master and servant, parent and child. Griet's resolution of her situation is clumsily handled, almost an afterthought. Perhaps the ultimate clash is between book and movie. Vermeer himself would understand the way that the images overpower the ideas. At the end, after being teased and seduced, we are at last allowed to gaze on the famous portrait itself, still more fascinating and more complete than any attempt to build upon it.
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