#feminism. Like all things trendy, sometimes the tag truly reflects a message of female empowerment, and other times it misses the mark entirely. This week’s film–written, directed by, and starring Marianna Palka–addresses feminist themes, but is it feminist? The answer is a resounding “sort of.”
TW: suicide attempt
After being pushed too far, a depressed wife and mother finally snaps, adopting the behavior and mannerisms of a female dog.
With her artistic ambitions crushed by the burden of caring for her children as her useless husband spends nights with his secretary, Jill’s future looks pretty bleak. So bleak, in fact, that she attempts to hang herself from a chandelier in the family’s suburban home.
Haunted by an ever-present neighborhood dog, overwhelmed with running around for the children, and failing to get any support beyond throwing pills at the problem, Jill mentally calls it quits. After initially ceasing to respond to her children at all, it later becomes clear that Jill isn’t exactly herself. She is, in fact, now behaving like a dog, barking and walking around on all fours included.
Husband Bill is not so much concerned as highly annoyed with Jill’s selfishness. Not only is he now responsible for figuring out the kids’ needs and routines, but he also needs to keep things afloat at work amid massive layoffs. In need of back up, Bill reaches out to Jill’s sister Beth. However, even with the support of Beth and a number of mental health specialists, Jill remains a snarling mass growling around in the basement.
After a rather dysfunctional Christmas with unhappy children and a welfare check from the police, Bill breaks down and momentarily splits. When he comes back home, Bill seems to understand the blame that was constantly hurled at Jill when she didn’t keep everything at home running smoothly…only to reveal how clueless he is when he blames all of his problems on his much too enormous penis.
Things go from bad to worse when Bill loses his job, Jill escapes, and he is caught (admittedly breaking up) with his mistress. It takes losing Jill to the care of her family to make Bill regret the way he treated her before. But that doesn’t make life suddenly a walk in the dog park. Is it too late to save their marriage or even bring Jill back to her usual self?
2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I credit this film for its ambition. The incredibly dark comedy premise here is brilliant as it approaches the concept of a woman perceived as a bitch on a literal level. I appreciate the satire here as a woman who has repeatedly heard that she can and should have it all is pushed to the breaking point–and considered selfish when experiencing mental illness.
However, there are a lot of moments that fall short of this film’s promise. Jill’s mental illness is initially treated as something inconvenient or in need of a quick fix, though the members of her family eventually accept the new version of Jill. This doesn’t quite work for me as Jill clearly is very ill and not in control of her actions. There’s a sort of odd fairy tale quality to the logic of the story in which Bill’s revelation that he’s been fucking up this entire time is needed to restore Jill’s sanity, and that’s…problematic, to say the least.
I think this gets to the film’s biggest issue: despite playing the titular bitch and serving as the catalyst setting up the rest of the film, Jill isn’t really the focus here. Rather, it is Bill who must unlearn his toxic habits. And while he does need to suffer here to appreciate the worth of Jill’s labor and love, it feels unintentionally bleak that this is the only way for him to learn. Additionally, the idea that the power rests with Bill to change their relationship for the better undermines the entire point of this film.
It’s also difficult that one of Bill’s big moments to show his growth as a character happens when he acts like a dog in a dog park. This scene is stuck somewhere between funny and uplifting, and just ends up feeling uncanny. There’s something profoundly sad about a man barking around on all fours in public, even if he is putting on this performance as encouragement for his wife.
This may say more about me as a person than the nature of this film, but I could’ve happily seen Bill end up with a much darker fate. It would be such a shame if he could no longer blame that big dick for all of his problems.