Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Lovebirds, or: Love Lyfts Us up Where We Belong

This year, month, week, take your pick–none of these have turned out the way most of us have anticipated. That could be one reason our good intentions of sticking to the theme of mental health in May has failed so miserably, though I’m not mad about it. We’ve experienced quite a few films that I’ll think about for a long time during the month…will this week’s pick be one of them?

The Film:

The Lovebirds

The Premise:

Immediately after breaking up, a couple implicated in murder must work together to clear their names.

The Ramble:

Leilani and Jibran connect instantly when they meet at a party, spending all night and much of the next day together. Four years later, the magic is not only long gone, and it may have never been there in the first place. The two seem utterly incompatible at this point–Leilani a chronic social media addict who is convinced the two could totally win The Amazing Race, Jibran a skeptical documentary filmmaker who criticizes virtually everything and constantly corrects Leilani on the minutest details.

A man and woman stand in an alley, gesticulating as they speak to 2 people not seen onscreen.

Driving to a party one evening, Leilani and Jibran finally decide to break up and end their shared misery. But as soon as they’ve uttered the words, a bicyclist suddenly appears, and Jibran accidentally hits the man. Though L&J offer to help the man and call an ambulance, the bicyclist appears afraid and is cycling again shortly thereafter. Before the couple has a chance to process what has happened, a mustachioed man claiming to be a police officer takes the driver’s seat and chases the bicyclist down. Things take a much darker turn when the vehicle catches up with the cyclist, repeatedly running the man over until he dies.

A blonde man with a moustache drives a car with a cracked windshield, as the passengers look on in fear.

As soon as he’s arrived, the driver disappears, leaving Leilani and Jibran the prime murder suspects. Regrouping at a diner, the two exes decide their story is too strange for the police to ever believe. Now in possession of the deceased’s phone, Leilani and Jibran vow to solve the murder in order to clear their names. Their first clue? A Google Calendar event that evening with Edie at a place ominously named The Dragon’s Den.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Leilani and Jibran are in way over their heads; after approaching Edie, they’re tied up in a barn and threatened with hot bacon grease and kicks from a horse. Edie and her congressman husband are determined to get their hands on incriminating photos that the deceased bicyclist apparently had. When Leilani and Jibran escape, their new goal is to find the photos at the bicyclist’s home–after a quick change of clothes at a local pharmacy.

Outside of a store at night, a woman in a unicorn hoodie stands next to a man wearing a shiny gold jacket.

Needless to say, Leilani and Jibran’s attempts to break into the bicyclist’s apartment aren’t immediately successful. To make matters worse, it turns out the apartment is full of frat bros who worked for the man but have no more answers than our leading couple. Either way, the return of Moustache, the unhinged murderer from before, spells trouble for the bros and a narrow escape for Leilani and Jibran–though they do manage to get a hold of the compromising photos.

The photos lead Leilani and Jibran to a sort of Eyes Wide Shut-style orgy, into police custody, and finally out of trouble. …Until, on the way home, the two recognize their driver’s mustachioed face. [cue dramatic music]

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Honestly, the only good elements of this film are Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani; both are as entertaining as ever. Besides that…eh, it’s fine.

The plot is meant to be absurdly farcical, but it never really gets to a level that’s funny. I don’t remember any of the jokes besides the gratuitous karaoke moment car singalong, and that’s not a great sign.

I admit the biggest problem for me are current events surrounding police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (among so many others), which have no direct connection to the creation of the film itself. Regardless, some of the humor just didn’t land as intended because of the context in which it was released. It’s difficult to watch characters worry about being disbelieved or even assaulted by the police in lines that are meant to be funny. And the silly wrap-up in which of course the police didn’t suspect you in a crime you clearly didn’t commit, innocent bystanders/people of color lolz…it’s disturbing, to be honest. Perhaps with a more satirical edge, this film could pull off the humor better; however, it’s hard to imagine laughing at these ideas, especially at this moment. It’s just much too real.

Would my blog wife hop into a Lyft with this one or end the trip early with not even a 1-star review? Read her film review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Art of Self-Defense, or: Typing This Is Difficult with My Weak Woman Fingers

You could argue that toxic masculinity inevitably has adverse effects on mental health (which it does). Otherwise, this week’s film serves as a final reminder that we have utterly failed to stick to our theme during this month of highlighting mental health. I can live with this, especially as I feel this month’s theme on the Collab was very good for my mental health, personally.

The Film:

The Art of Self-Defense

The Premise:

After he is the victim of a violent attack, mild-mannered Casey decides to embrace the masculine art of karate in a quest to no longer live in fear.

The Ramble:

*Spoilers follow*

Casey Davies is the sort of person who awkwardly defends his boss to his dude bro coworkers and apologizes profusely to his dog (but, honestly, you might be a sociopath if you don’t). An accountant who keeps to himself and rejects the swagger of toxic masculinity, Casey is nonetheless intrigued by the fearless confidence of his rather mediocre coworkers.

A man stands in an office kitchen, speaking to another man who is seated.

One night, after Casey is attacked by a motorcycle gang, his life changes in unexpected ways. The violence of the assault shakes Casey to his core, and it no longer feels enough to quietly keep to himself and hope for the best. Uninterested in returning to work and too terrified to even go outside after dark, Casey decides to buy a handgun for self-defense, though the mandatory waiting period means several days must pass for him to buy a firearm.

In the mean time, Casey strolls past a karate dōjō and wanders inside, drawn to the discipline, power, and strength of the practice. As the Sensei puts it, karate is forming words with your fists and feet–a concept that appeals to the traumatized Casey immensely.

A man in a black karate uniform, a karategi, poses with one fist extended.

Though karate requires rigorous and humbling training to earn even the lowest ranking of a yellow belt, Casey fully embraces his role as a student. He no longer feels a gun is needed as karate will teach him the skill of punching with the feet and kicking with his hands (whatever the fuck that means). Besides, the 11th rule of the dōjō is that guns are for the weak; considering that the karate master and founder of the dōjō was killed in a suspicious gun accident while hiking, this rule is taken quite seriously.

When Casey earns the yellow belt, it becomes his entire identity as he buys only yellow foods and orders a custom yellow belt so he can feel the confidence of his achievement always. However, even as he celebrates his accomplishments, Casey begins to notice the flaws in the hierarchy Sensei controls: female instructor Anna will seemingly never earn a black belt despite her skills, and blue belt Henry seems destined to stay at this level eternally.

A woman wearing a white gi looks fiercely at a man facing her.

Still, Casey is determined to master karate and become the best, most hypermasculine version of himself possible. In order to do so, Sensei advises Casey to hold onto the yellow belt even though it doesn’t feel earned, start listening to the toughest music (metal), stop coddling his pet dachshund, and take up the hobby of learning German instead of French.

By following Sensei’s lead, Casey gains an air of authority based on fear rather than respect. He even earns a spot at the coveted night class, widely understood as the hardcore version of the day class. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s at the legendary night class that things take a dark turn: arms are broken, teeth knocked out, and Anna beats new black belt Thomas within an inch of his life. During the class cooldown, Casey can no longer deny how sexist the dōjō is, as he discovers the women’s changing room is basically a utility closet with a few towels thrown in. Worse, as the newbie, he must suffer the supposedly horrible indignity of Anna’s weak woman hands massaging him.

A man in black karategi stands in the middle of a mat, speaking to karate students lined up in a row facing him.

Though Sensei’s idiotic words of wisdom have covered his true intentions well to this point, it becomes clear that he’s a much more sinister figure. Claiming to have located the leader of the motorcycle gang responsible for the attack on Casey, Sensei encourages him to beat up the man. Casey does fight the man and seriously injures him, which Sensei records on film. Suspiciously, Casey returns home to find his dog has been attacked, suffering from what appears to be a punch from a foot.

After confronting Sensei, Casey realizes his instructor has the upper hand with the recording of his student violently attacking a man without provocation. Sensei asks Casey to join him for an unspecified errand, which of course ends up being joining his motorcycle gang to beat up a hapless victim that night. It’s Casey’s job to find the perfect target; what could possibly go wrong?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Ooooooooh, where to begin? I’m still puzzling over this one, which succeeds in being very funny, extremely dark, and quite insightful into the way toxic masculinity works.

Initially, it’s rather easy to dismiss Sensei as idiotically spouting nonsense because he may not be quite as insightful as he believes. However, as the film shifts into darker territory, it’s clear that the nonsense is intentional, accurately reflecting his warped understanding of the world. It doesn’t come as a shock that Sensei is in much greater control than any of his students realize as they fail to process that, in addition to judging which of his students are inherently worthwhile, he has created the entire system of values itself. Of course establishing the world as a violent and dangerous place, then positioning yourself as the teacher who can help people become tough enough to survive it will prove an effective strategy. It’s more or less the first lesson of Intro to Cult Leadership.

But, to the observer, the unbreakable rules of toxic masculinity are quickly unraveled. Sensei discusses how Anna, as a woman, is inherently unsuited to karate, yet her supposedly natural maternal instinct makes her the best instructor for the children’s classes. Less than 200 years ago, most teachers were men, so perhaps the idea that a specific gender makes anyone more or less suited to a certain job is nonsense. And Sensei’s insistence that Anna isn’t the right candidate for a black belt shifts the blame to her, rather than exploring the ways the system has been set up to undermine her accomplishments (to say nothing of his own personal bias). Speaking of Anna, there is absolutely no romantic story line with her, praise the lord. It’s refreshing that, as the only female character, Anna is decidedly not there as a love interest.

The ending itself is somehow both very disturbing and quite heartwarming. Ultimately, Casey does have to speak the language of toxic masculinity to defeat it–but will he embrace it as a belief system or use it as a tool for a different purpose?

Would my blog wife bow respectfully to this one or aim a foot punch and fist kick its way? Find out in her review here!

Film Reviews, TV Reviews

The Great…est of Period Drama Comedy

Lately, binge watching The Great has been giving me life. It’s a bit of a roller coaster as it tells the heavily fictionalized story of Catherine the Great’s rise to power by staging a coup only a few months into her husband’s reign (that part is true!). All of the things I love about a period drama are here: witty dialogue, petty schemes, and incredible costumes and scenery. Don’t get me wrong, though–the humor is pitch black and cynical AF, and there are some pretty disturbing murders, tortures, and the like.

Having consumed the series in its entirety (unless season 2 is in the cards?!), I’m having a bit of a meltdown about what to do with my life next. The time may be ripe to reexamine the rather niche comedy/period drama genre. Here are some suggestions in case you also promised to pace yourself on your latest TV series only to be confronted with your own deceit less than a week later.

Header image from Twitter account @TheGreatHulu

Film

Two woman stand side by side in glamorous dresses, looking directly at the camera.
Image copyright by BBC

Cold Comfort Farm

Based on a parody of the romantic pastoral novel, there is nothing subtle about this film adaptation, which features a stellar cast. In one of her first roles, Kate Beckinsale plays Flora Poste, a penniless young woman who goes to live with little known relatives in the English countryside. Absolutely every character is an over-the-top exaggeration, from Ian McKellen’s fire-and-brimstone preacher to Joanna Lumley’s glamorous socialite and Sheila Burrell’s embittered family matriarch who infamously “saw something nasty in the woodshed” long ago.

An Ideal Husband

Rupert Everett as the extremely Wilde-like Lord Goring is perfect casting. Actually, you can’t fault any of the cast here, which includes Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, and Julianne Moore. When a former lover arrives in town with a blackmail scheme that could ruin Lord Chiltern’s political career, it’s up to bff Goring to cleverly solve the problem, all while dodging marriages left and right. On reflection, this is a bit like a Jeeves and Wooster adventure, except Goring fills in for both characters, throwing in some cheerfully subversive wit for good measure.

Two women stand in a courtyard wearing Regency coats and hats.
Image by Ross McDonnell

Love and Friendship

Playing almost the polar opposite of her Cold Comfort Farm character, Kate Beckinsale brings the period drama charm again as the scheming social climber Lady Susan. A fairly young widow, Lady Susan seeks a wealthy husband for herself, as well as one for her daughter, and is perfectly fine with scandalizing all of polite society with her meddling. The thinly veiled insults and outraged indignation are incredibly entertaining. As an aside, I cannot wait to watch the new adaptation of Emma (actually, as a cheapskate, I can..but I’m not happy about it)!

Return of the Hero

A French language film for the list! Not going to lie, I tuned in mostly for Mélanie Laurent, but you can’t fault Jean Dujardin here either. Though Captain Neuville promises he will write to his fiancée every day when he goes off to war, it’s pretty clear to her sister Elisabeth that this is not going to happen. Recognizing what a tool the captain is, Elisabeth writes letters to her sister on his behalf, inventing all manner of heroic deeds he’s pulled off. This plan backfires terribly when, against all odds, Capt. Neuville survives the war and returns home, fully embraced by the family. Only Elisabeth knows what a fraud the captain is, but telling the truth will expose her own deception in this silly comedy.

A woman clasps a necklace behind a man's neck while he is shirtless and wearing heavy face makeup.
Image copyright 2004 by Lions Gate Films

Stage Beauty

Difficult as it is to imagine, our film takes place at a time when it was widely accepted that only men should appear on stage, even in female roles, and the idea of a woman acting was scandalous. As the most renowned actor playing female roles in Restoration-era England, Ned Kynaston’s star is falling just as Margaret Hughes rises. This is a bit of a period drama twist on A Star Is Born, except it’s quite funny and not a huge bummer (though I did quite like the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper/Sam Elliott’s moustache version).

Twelfth Night

Ah, the fluidity of gender roles: a classic Shakespearean theme. After a shipwreck leaves Viola stranded, her brother presumed dead, she adopts a man’s disguise to make her way in the local court. Though Imogen Stubbs stars, of course it’s Helena Bonham Carter who steals the show as Olivia, the clueless romantic in love with a disguised Viola; but, like any good period drama, the entire cast is excellent. Throw in more love triangles than you can shake a stick at, and you’ve got the heart and soul of a true Shakespearean comedy onscreen.

Television

American Princess

This one is cheating as it’s not a period drama; rather, it’s set rather uniquely at a modern-day Renaissance Faire. However, the parallels between time periods, the gorgeous costumes, and the interesting look at the hierarchy of the Ren Fair circuit should scratch the period drama itch for you–just be prepared for a lot of very Shakespearean humor (read: filthy). Word of caution: this was cancelled after only one season (so don’t get too attached), but things are wrapped up in a way that’s satisfying enough that it won’t leave you hanging.

A man wearing a crown smiles at the woman seated next to him, who is holding a bearded dragon.
The only relationship that matters to me in the series is the one between King Richard and lizard/dragon in disguise Tad Cooper; image copyright by ABC Studios.

Galavant

I’m honestly never going to get over the years of my life wasted caring about Once Upon a Time, aka the Disney Channel happy hour. But the couple of Galavant seasons we got during the show’s mid-season break almost make it all worth it. At once a sort of tribute to Monty Python and a parody of all things Disney, the comedy musical is ridiculously fun to watch (and the number of incredible cameos is unreal). With songs about poisoning the nobility, burning down villages with the help of a pet lizard (who’s secretly a dragon, of course), and how stupid feelings are, this seems like a distant cousin of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Jeeves and Wooster

This show never fails to make me laugh. I can’t imagine anyone more suited to the titular roles than Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie; their dynamic is so perfect in this series. As the painfully clueless Bertie Wooster stumbles into tricky situations (often where he ends up inadvertently engaged to a series of high society ladies), his valet Jeeves always manages to wrap things up neatly. One of my favorite episodes involves a scheme to steal an antique cow creamer, which could yield multiple broken engagements (and the wrath of the Nazi-esque Black Shorts) should it fail.

Six women dressed in Regency costume stand in a row with a man dressed in a soldier's uniform of the era.
Image copyright by Mammoth Screen

Lost in Austen

True confession: I’m not the biggest Austen fan, but I love an adaptation that underscores the social commentary and biting wit rather than romance. The story follows Amanda Price, a Londoner who magically switches places with Lizzie Bennett of Pride & Prejudice, which is clearly going to include a romantic plot here. Yet the unexpected twists and turns, fish out of water comedy, and backhanded compliments make for an amusing watch. In no other Austen adaptation will characters speak so openly about lesbians, reenacting the famous Darcy in the lake scene, or waxing pubic hair.

Vanity Fair

To be honest, I don’t think this adaptation is really what William Thackeray had in mind, but IDGAF. It’s virtually impossible not to like and even root for the incredibly manipulative Becky Sharp; through this interpretation of the novel, Becky is a survivor responding to narrowly defined morality, class structures, and gender roles. Olivia Cooke is such a delight to watch in this role, and the odd decision to have Michael Palin as Thackeray interjecting wry commentary while on a carousel just works for me.

A middle-aged man with a stethoscope and notebook stands next to a young man with identical accessories.
Image copyright 2012 by Big Talk Productions

A Young Doctor’s Notebook

Finally, one that’s set in Russia! Pitch black humor, some truly gruesome medical procedures on camera, and a familiar face (Adam Godley, the power-hungry Patriarch in The Great), this is perhaps the closest series to matching The Great in tone. No one is especially likeable, nor half as clever as they believe, but it’s all so satisfyingly dark. Plus Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe having deeply cynical conversations with each other as the younger and older versions of the protagonist is so fun to watch.

Honorable mentions too obvious to bring up previously

Clearly, The Favourite, written by The Great writer/creator Tony McNamara. Managing to balance the absurdity of the characters with their vulnerability, this film is so entertaining even as it’s quite heartbreaking (and absolutely packed with social and political commentary).

Additionally, any number of films by Mel Brooks or the Monty Python crew, as well as the entire run of Blackadder. I feel pretty confident that Lord Flashheart would be right at home in Peter III’s court.

I’d also add Jojo Rabbit even though it’s emotionally devastating at times. However, Taika Waititi’s mad sense of humor and appreciation for dark comedy are on par with the tone of The Great.

What are you watching to stay wryly amused, darkly entertained, or otherwise occupied?

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Diabolique, or: A Lesson on Keeping up with Backyard Pool Maintenance

We had such good intentions with Mental May to examine mental health in film all month; however, it took just one French period drama to fully embrace all of the Continental fashions, schemes, and casual tobacco use instead. Once again, this week’s film doesn’t exactly connect to our monthly theme unless serving as inspiration for Hitchcock’s Psycho counts (okay, that totally doesn’t count). However, I think you may be persuaded to overlook the continued neglect of our theme based on the intensity of the suspense here, the twists and turns, and healthy dose of moral ambiguity.

The Film:

Diabolique

The Premise:

A murder plot goes awry after the wife and mistress of a shady headmaster team up to stage his death as an accident.

The Ramble:

As far as boarding schools go, the one Michel Delassalle runs isn’t one of your posher options. In fact, it tends more to the 19th-century, Jane Eyre type of school in which pupils are served spoiled food to cut corners and given rather draconian punishments for minor offenses. Though his wife Christina holds the purse strings, her unspecified heart condition means she has to take it easy, and Michel is more or less free to be an unpleasant asshole all of his waking hours.

A man wearing a suit holds the arms of a woman in a robe.

Determined to spread his misery around, Michel is openly having an affair with teacher Nicole Horner. Rather than resent each other, though, the two women seem to share a bond over how terrible and inescapable is sleazy Michel.

After a late night fight in which Michel gives Nicole a black eye, she’s decided enough is enough. Secretly showing Christina some poison stashed away at the school, Nicole suggests the timing has never been better. With the school breaking for a 3-day holiday, the two women can carry off a rather convoluted plan that basically boils down to poisoning Michel and dumping his body in the school’s pool.

A blonde woman wearing sunglasses walks slightly behind another woman, holding, her arm and shoulder to provide support.

Leaving early in the morning, Christina accompanies Nicole to her home in western France. Nicole rents out the upper level to a married couple who are obviously there to create extra moments of suspense, but I’m not mad about it. That night, Christina calls Michel to demand a divorce, which brings him out to confront her immediately.

Horrible people of the world, here’s your last plea to be just a little less awful: when serving Michel poisoned wine, Christina hesitates just a bit, spilling the glass down his shirt. But, of course, rather than being understanding, Michel flies off the handle, reaffirming his wife’s conviction that he’s absolutely got to go. After the poison takes effect, Nicole holds down Michel in a full tub, placing a heavy bronze statue on his chest for good measure.

A woman smoking a cigarette holds a large bronze statue of a lion, while another woman stands in front of a large wicker case.

After a suspenseful trip back to the school, Nicole and Christina wait for someone to discover the body in the pool. After several days pass and no body materializes underneath the layer of leaves and grime floating on the water’s surface, Nicole sets up a potentially gruesome way for one of the pupils to find the headmaster. However, nothing shows up–even when the pool is drained completely. Other eerie happenings go down when one of Michel’s suits is delivered to the school by a man matching his description, and a boy says the headmaster has punished him for misbehaving.

When a body is found in the Seine, Christina is almost relieved. However, when she goes to identify the body, it turns out it isn’t Michel after all. Noticing her distress, a retired police detective offers to help Christina track down her husband. Oh shit.

In the back of a taxi, a man in a long coat speaks to a woman who has her hand pressed to her eyes.

More of an anxious wreck than ever before, Christina confesses to Nicole that she’d rather this all end so she could face whatever is coming. In a shocking twist, the detective announces he has found Christina’s husband–what can that possibly mean?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

To honor the warning that accompanies the end of this film, I will not spoil this for my friends (even though I’ve got to question the validity of a 65-year-old spoiler warning). I will say that this film is ridiculously suspenseful at times, and the buildup to our dramatic twist is quite satisfying. However, possibly because of the years I’ve spent watching Hitchcock (and soap operas), the twist is perhaps not quite as much of a surprise as intended. I think most fans of film will immediately latch on to several offhand remarks and have a pretty good idea of how things will end up.

That’s not to say the film lacks tension or quite horrific moments. I was genuinely shocked when Nicole sent one of the schoolchildren diving into a pool with a dead body in it. There are also some really disturbing shots of both Michel’s body and the liquids seeping from it. Even in black and white, this is vile.

It also makes me shudder that Christina considers divorce a sin, and that the terror and shame surrounding it are (in her mind) somehow worse than murder. There can certainly still be some (or even a great deal) of shame surrounding divorce, but it does seem to be more accepted today than ever before. I mean, especially if the alternative is murder? Though the fashions and casual cigarette-smoking while wearing sunglasses work aesthetically, I am once again pleased not to live during an earlier time in history.

In conclusion, this is creepy and atmospheric AF, but I was hoping for a little more fraternité between our leading ladies.

Would my blog wife uncork a nice bottle of wine with this one or serve it a bit of arsenic on the side? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Portrait of a Lady on Fire, or: Paint Me Like One of Your French Girls

If there’s any lesson I hope you learn from this blog, it’s that I am always on board for a period drama. Although our theme on the Blog Collab this month is mental health, we’re rolling along with a questionably related French lesbian period drama. Not going to lie–I just really wanted to watch this film regardless of theme since I missed it in theaters.

The Film:

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

The Premise:

After being commissioned to secretly paint a wedding portrait of a young woman, artist Marianne finds herself conflicted when she develops romantic feelings for her subject.

The Ramble:

*Spoilers follow*

Marianne is a drawing teacher in late 1700s France, remaining aloof as she pushes her students to do their best. It’s clear there are feelings bubbling beneath her cool exterior when she spots one of her paintings on display in the classroom. This particular painting, the titular Portrait of a Lady on Fire, was painted a long time ago yet maintains a powerful pull on Marianne. So let’s journey back a long time ago, shall we?

After arriving on a stunningly gorgeous island off the coast of France, art supplies in tow, it’s clear Marianne has her work cut out for her with a new portrait commission. Not only is the large estate rather empty and ominous in all of the best ways we’d expect from a Gothic-tinged period drama, but the subject of her portrait, Héloïse, will likely be less than cooperative.

On a windswept beach, a blonde woman looks seriously at a dark-haired woman.

After smoking a pipe in the nude (for real), Marianne gets her night cheese on, gathering all of the gossip she can from maid Sophie. As it turns out, Héloïse has only recently returned home after spending much of her life in a convent. After the unexpected death of her sister, Héloïse will inherit her life plan, marrying the Milanese gentleman intended for her sister. Sophie reveals that Héloïse’s sister did not die by accident–rather, her death was a suicide.

A naked woman sits on the floor in front of the fire in a dimly lit room, lighting a pipe.

Now that Héloïse will marry, her mother has commissioned a wedding portrait to mark the occasion. However, Héloïse destroyed the painting created by the previous artist and absolutely refuses to sit for another portrait. As a result, Marianne will have to be sneaky, posing as a walking companion for Héloïse, who has not been allowed to leave the house since her sister’s death. Any portrait work Marianne completes will be done in secret in only a week.

To make things even more complicated, Héloïse is incredibly gorgeous and full of life, so Marianne is almost immediately attracted to her. As a single woman who makes her living as an artist, Marianne enjoys a level of freedom Héloïse can only dream of, introducing her to music she’s never heard before and giving her an idea of what life in Milan might be like. As the two bond, Marianne feels increasingly guilty about her deception. When the portrait is complete, she decides Héloïse will hear the truth from her.

After the portrait is unveiled, Marianne destroys it before Héloïse’s mother can see it, claiming it isn’t good enough. And, while it was perhaps accurate, Marianne does feel it fails to capture the truth of Héloïse’s nature. Though extremely aggravated, Héloïse’s mother agrees that Marianne can repaint the portrait, especially when Héloïse declares that she will cooperate fully by sitting to pose. Héloïse’s mother will be away for five days, after which she expects to see results.

A blonde woman in an elegant green dress faces a dark-haired woman wearing a burnt orange dress.

Left to their own devices, Marianne, Héloïse, and Sophie create their own little utopia free from men and any sort of authority figures. They cook together, come up with a solution to Sophie’s troubles together, and discuss the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice together. And Marianne and Héloïse spend a lot of time casting intense looks at each other. We get a glimpse at the inspiration for the titular portrait of a lady on fire. However, in true Gothic fashion, Marianne is haunted by a ghostly vision of Héloïse in a wedding dress.

A woman stands in a clearing of a field at night, the bottom of her dress on fire.

What will happen when the portrait is complete and Héloïse’s mother returns home?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

*Swoon.* This film is absolutely stunning from just about every angle. First of all, the cinematography is gorgeous, capturing the incredible scenery, costumes, and sets. It’s impossible not to feel instantly transported right into the story as it unfolds so delicately and deliberately.

It’s no secret that I love a period drama, and this one is so lovely. The lingering looks, the graceful (if extremely uncomfortable) fashions, the eerie visions late at night! All of this plus a lesbian romance, feminist themes, and commentary about class status, and I’m in love even though this film broke my heart.

I adore how real the characters feel, and what a unique character Marianne is. Though I haven’t given her much attention in my review, Sophie, the maid, is quite incredible too. Despite being part of a class meant to lead a nameless, faceless existence, Sophie is her own person. She is observant and compassionate, while her pregnancy highlights the vulnerability of her position. Just quit, men. Quit it.

As a great period drama should, this film simultaneously makes me want to live in the exact setting while also being so grateful for not living in an earlier time than our own (though it’s a reminder of how far we have to go for women’s and LGBTQ rights). The circumstances for women at the time are pretty bleak, and it’s heartbreaking that the love and freedom Marianne and Héloïse find doesn’t last. But the film manages to celebrate what these characters achieve without pity; it’s miraculous they carved out space for themselves at all, even if it was a tiny amount for a short time. That being said, I dare you to watch this and tell me the ending didn’t destroy you emotionally.

Would my blog wife exchange long, lingering looks with this one or let it all burn down? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Unsane, or: Trapped in a Car(e Ward) With Someone You Don’t Want to Be Trapped in a Ward With

Shark Month is over, but we have a shiny new theme to look forward to: Mental May! The subject of mental health is near and dear to our hearts (and minds) on the Collab, and the timing couldn’t be better. With anxiety, stress, depression, and myriad mental health issues amplified during the pandemic–not to mention its impact on income, productivity, creativity, and employment–it feels right to highlight mental illness in film, particularly those ladies who tend to be dismissed as hysterical women. We’re diving straight into the deep end here with a disturbing look at stalking and the fine line between paranoia and reality.

The Film:

Unsane

The Premise:

A woman who is involuntarily committed for psychiatric care begins to see a familiar face from her past…or so she believes.

The Ramble:

The memorably named Sawyer Valentini is a data analyst who has no time for your shit, whether you’re client, coworker, or dude she’s on a date with. It’s maybe not a surprise that, after recently moving away from Boston for a job, Sawyer hasn’t precisely connected with anyone.

Feeling alone and afraid as the former target of a stalker, Sawyer seeks help from a psychiatrist. When she mentions suicidal thoughts she’s experienced in the past, Sawyer unknowingly sets off a nightmarish chain of events. Led to a locked room, her clothes and belongings confiscated, Sawyer is involuntarily committed to psychiatric care for 24 hours (one particular staff member giving off serious Nurse Ratched vibes included).

A woman in business clothes looks skeptically at a male nurse standing in an exam room.

As it turns out, the standard forms for the shady fucking hospital contain an agreement for voluntary institutionalization if there is concern for the patient or others. Enraged, Sawyer uses her one phone call to contact the police…who (shockingly) aren’t the most helpful.

She makes absolutely zero friends by antagonizing (admittedly rather hostile) patient Violet, calling everyone else mental, and punching a patient named Daniel. When hospital staff arrive to intervene, Sawyer believes she recognizes one of the staff members and assaults him too. Because of this behavior, a psychiatrist determines Sawyer must stay in the hospital for an additional week.

Meanwhile, recovering addict Nate tries to help out the struggling Sawyer. He explains how damn sketchy the psych hospital is, notorious for admitting patients who don’t need the treatment but whose insurance will pay for care. Since the hospital is covered legally by the paperwork patients are required to sign, there’s not much for Sawyer to do besides keep her head down and wait for the time to pass.

A woman curls up on a cot, a man sitting next to her.

Of course, Sawyer ignores this advice and picks a fight with everyone almost immediately. To give her some credit, Sawyer does see the staff member she recognized earlier and realizes he actually is the man she suspected, former stalker David Strine. As no one believes her, Sawyer demands to borrow Nate’s secret phone, a major rule violation at the hospital. Using the phone to call her mother, Sawyer believes it will be only a matter of hours before she’s released.

In a dimly lit hallway, a woman stares coldly at a bearded man in scrubs. She is waiting in a line to receive medication.

Nice way to end things? Perhaps. But there’s still half of the movie left, so clearly things aren’t going to wrap up so neatly. Sawyer’s mom is allowed a brief visit, and, armed with the truth about her daughter’s stalker and major righteous indignation, gets the law involved. However, it’s not long before she gets a visitor at the hotel claiming to be a repairman for the A/C unit in her room. This visitor will look very familiar to the audience, who may or may not scream at her to not open the door, for the love of god.

Back in the hospital, Strine nearly gives Sawyer an overdose. As she recovers, she tells the whole horrifying story of her stalker’s obsession to Nate. Included is the really disturbing advice of a detective to essentially live in fear forever. Though the moral support from Nate is appreciated by Sawyer, Strine gets transparently jealous of their special bond. This cannot end well.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Spoilers follow

*Shudder.* The suspense is real here, and the absolute unending nightmare Sawyer experiences as the victim of a stalker feels authentic. Both the idea of being stalked and involuntarily committed are horrendous, and the paranoid feeling of being trapped comes across. Strine is so creepy, playing his role so effectively that it’s Sawyer who ends up questioning her sanity. The ending is truly chilling.

I can’t help but admire Sawyer’s survival skills and toughness when wrongfully committed. Even though it’s her unwillingness to lie low that extends her stay at the hospital, it’s also this trait that ends up saving her skin. I simultaneously cheered and cringed at a certain point in the film when Sawyer confronts Strine, asking him bluntly who rejected him and made him this way.

That being said, Sawyer isn’t incredibly compassionate. It’s really frustrating to watch her have so little patience for people with serious mental illness, and especially for Nate, who spends 85% of his screen time trying to help Sawyer. There’s some discomfort in seeing a white woman constantly rebuff a black man’s sincere attempts to help, especially when he ends up dying at the hands of her stalker. However, the other deaths feel unpleasantly like a sacrifice to Sawyer too, dying so that she may live. And it’s really difficult not to come across as victim blaming to some extent, particularly as there’s one death that it does feel like Sawyer contributes to (yet doesn’t seem too bothered about).

Is this film melodramatic? Extremely. But it works because underneath it is the very raw, instinctive fear of being watched, being trapped, and being doubted.

Would my blog wife let this one borrow her cell phone or immediately go after it with an improvised shiv? Read her review here to find out!