I believe it to be impossible to review Camille without discussing spoilers. Considering that most of the plot is driven by an event, and that the characters don’t fully realize its implications until halfway through, I feel the need to mention that I will have to mention spoilers in this review. If you want to avoid them completely, then you should just go watch the film because if you’re dead-set about avoiding spoilers, you’ve probably already decided you’ll see it at some point.
The film begins with a wedding. There’s a rebellious young man named Silas (James Franco), who is a troublemaker trying to clean up his act. He still smokes and steals though, and he’s currently on parole, but for some reason, his wife-to-be, Camille (Sienna Miller) loves him anyway. They wed, although after the reception, we hear him remark that he wants to punch her in the face whenever she talks. Not exactly true love on his part. Their goal is to travel by way of road to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. I should mention at this point that they’re on the American side of Niagara Falls, because that becomes a plot point of mild importance later on.
There’s a snag in this plan though: The pair get into an accident and Camille dies. This gives the police a reason to chase them across multiple states after Silas enters a farmer’s house to use the phone, while inadvertently robbing them. Yes, I did just say “them.” See, for reasons that are hinted at but never directly mentioned (thankfully), Camille managed to come back to life. At first, I thought this was going to be one of those films where only Silas could see her, but it turns out, everyone can.
Everyone can also smell her, and they can also see her hair falling out. See, even though she’s managed to cheat death for a while, her body is still decomposing. Her skin gets lighter (although never falls off), her hair all eventually falls out (here is where a red wig that would make Lola jealous is brought in) and she has to be bathed in formaldehyde in order to stop her from smelling. But, essentially, she’s doing all right considering she died.
Most of the film just follows the pair on their journey. They end up being joined by a Cowboy named Bob (David Carradine), who runs a carousel pulled by painted horses. There is a focus put on a blue one who may or may not be dying, and the comparison between it and Camille is not subtle, but who cares? Also included in the cast are Scott Glenn and Ed Lauter, police Sheriffs who spend most of their time chasing our newlyweds.
What begins as a light, somewhat humorous film — I particularly found the scene where Silas throws his boss into a pool funny — turns dark after this accident. It’s actually quite sad watching Camille begin to decompose, and the scene where she finds out about it was definitely not enjoyable. But, it does serve as a good reason for Silas to begin enjoying his time with her, and also serves as a way to get the film’s message about enjoying each moment like it’s our last out in a somewhat unique way. I could see the same film being made with her getting cancer — in fact, there probably are multiple films with this premise — but thankfully (and I can’t believe I’m using that word here) she’s dead instead.
Even though this is a romantic comedy that manages to sidestep many of the clichés generally associated with that genre, I saw the ending coming from a mile away. Granted, it still managed to be touching in a slightly depraved way, but it was touching nonetheless. Still, if you’re looking for a surprising ending, you probably won’t find one in Camille. I could see other ways that it could have ended, but I never once thought that the film would go in these directions. I was almost disappointed to find out that I was correct, but it managed to make an impact on me even though I figured out what was coming.
There isn’t a lot of humor after the accident, which is a shame. Once the characters learn what’s going on with Camille, everything becomes deadly serious and there are few, if any, laughs to be had. It works well enough in this film because the premise isn’t something where playing just for laughs would serve it best. If the characters were joking the whole time while Camille is beginning to decompose, it just wouldn’t fit. But it is worth mentioning for those of you expecting a laugh-out-loud comedy because you won’t get one.
The highlight of Camille is Sienna Miller in the eponymous role. She gives it her all throughout the film, and without a charming performance from her, the film might have fallen apart. But because she does a great job bringing energy toward an otherwise lifeless cast — on purpose, I must stress — we are captivated. We want to see what she’ll do next, even after she dies, and as a result, we keep watching even when not a lot is going on. James Franco’s “bad boy” routine didn’t gel with me, although it’s forgotten about for most of the film regardless, so I guess it doesn’t really matter anyway. (For most of the film, his idea of “bad boy” is being a chain smoker.)
For the most part, I quite enjoyed Camille. It’s an off-beat, quirky and sometimes dark comedy featuring a likable lead and a somewhat unique premise. It avoids some clichés in the romantic comedy genre, although its ending is still quite easy to figure out. Despite this, the ending was still touching for me, and I definitely have to give Camille a recommendation.