Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I Care a Lot, or: Don’t Vape and Drive

Though I’m as eager as the next person to say goodbye to February this year (the cold, the snow, the continuation of a global pandemic), I’m a bit sad to bring Feminist February to a close. It’s been an especially great one on the Collab, as we’ve been focused on women who, like us, seem to have a bit of a sardonic perspective on humanity. Though not to the point that we would knowingly steal from people while over-medicating them to death, like a certain protagonist of this week’s film. Probably?

The Film:

I Care a Lot

The Premise:

A woman who makes a living as a shady legal guardian for vulnerable older people meets her match when she attempts to scam a woman with mafia connections.

The Ramble:

Marla Grayson is living her best life–if your definition of a good life is racking up cash through a guardian scheme, using mostly legal channels to gain control over the lives and assets of suitably wealthy retirees. Once she has power over their lives, Marla uses her connections with questionably ethical people in the medical and retirement fields to keep her clients too hopped up on unnecessary prescriptions to protest too much. Operating from the premises that there’s no such thing as a good person and working hard is for suckers, Marla is comfortably amoral–if not downright immoral.

Marla, with a blonde bob and red dress, faces a wall lined with the pictures of those for whom she is a legal guardian.

Though Marla spends a decent amount of time fending off the outraged relatives of those she cares for both in and outside of the courtroom, she’s too pragmatic to feel even the slightest twinge of conscience. When she learns of a “cherry,” a well-off elderly person with no family to intervene, Marla is all too eager to scoop up a new person to represent.

At first, Marla and her live-in girlfriend and business partner Fran, seem to have struck gold. However, things start looking a bit too good to be true when Marla uncovers a stash of seemingly stolen diamonds in her new client Jennifer’s security deposit box. And it might be a little worrying that a taxi arrives at Jennifer’s home, now essentially one of Marla and Fran’s homes as they prepare it for sale. Considering that Jennifer has had no way to contact the outside world since the confiscation of her cell phone, it’s not a major surprise to us that there are some very shady dealings going on…and Marla may finally be in over her head.

Jennifer, a dazed older woman, walks along the hallway of an assisted living facility, flanked by Fran, employees of the facility, and Marla in a crisp yellow pantsuit.

As it turns out, Jennifer is not at all the person she seems to be; in fact, she has powerful connections to the Russian mafia. Her son Roman is quite angry about the fate that has befallen his mother and is willing to do what it takes to see her far away from Marla’s care.

Initially, Roman is prepared to take the fairly mild approach of hiring a lawyer to pay off Marla. Predictably, she is after more cash than she’s offered, opting to let things escalate. And escalate they do.

Roman stands in a dark parking garage, silencing the man he speaks with. Behind him, a large SUV is parked, and a man dressed in black holds a box.

After Marla makes her battle of wills with Jennifer personal, Roman cranks the dial past 10, leading to a shootout at the assisted living facility where his mother is imprisoned. When Jennifer’s doctor turns up dead, it’s enough for former cop Fran to sincerely worry their own lives may be at risk. Just as Marla is all set to carry out a rather cunning plan to lay low with her girlfriend and their secret stash of diamonds, Roman outmaneuvers her. It’s going to be difficult for Marla to walk away from this one unscathed–will her life prove that cockroaches can indeed survive anything?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

In my opinion, this film doesn’t quite live up to its potential. However, I’m willing to give it a lot of credit for maintaining my interest throughout its 2-hour runtime–and for Rosamund Pike’s performance. The casting is very well done here; Peter Dinklage and Dianne Wiest (who I could have stood to see in many more scenes, frankly) are wonderful, but RP does the most work carrying this film. The film is visually stunning too, sort of vibrant ’60s candy colors that contrast so greatly with the grimy, disturbing impulses of its characters.

Tonally, the film doesn’t always get things right. There are times when lines of dialogue feel like they’re pulled from an episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver; we are very clearly supposed to learn something based in reality that should shock and outrage us. And there seem to be 2 contradictory story lines driving the plot forward: one in which Marla is pulling off a disturbing con, and another in which she’s fighting for her life against an equally amoral opponent. There are times when Marla is facing off with Roman that I want her to succeed and can’t help admiring her survival instinct (though some of the scenarios she survived did take me out of the story).

I do like the commentary on feminism we get here. Marla probably considers herself a feminist; she objects to the everyday sexism she encounters in her life and work. However, she perfectly embodies why representation in business isn’t enough to build a more equitable world that is empowering for women; Marla is in this for herself and herself alone. She’s willing to exploit others for her own ends–in fact, she’s pretty pleased with herself whenever she tricks someone else. Decidedly not feminism.

From what I’ve heard about the film so far, the ending is very divisive. I have to say I agree that it is somewhat disappointing. First, the resolution of things between Marla and Roman is unsatisfying and too convenient to be believed. And the final scene of the film doesn’t strike me as clever, especially not to the degree that it’s meant to be. I hoped for a darker, less moralizing conclusion to the film; this one is too heavy-handed.

On a side note, know what I find absolutely fascinating and am positive will be the subject of a dissertation if it hasn’t been already? The representation of vaping in film (as Marla does this constantly), which always seems to be the marker of a reprehensible character and looks so uncool on camera, in contrast to smoking (at the very least if you’re a glamorous film noir femme fatale).

Would my blog wife trust this one with a stash of stolen diamonds or leave it high and dry with too many prescription meds in the bloodstream? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Rafiki, or: Something Real

CW: violence against women

This week’s film was the first from Kenya to feature at the Cannes Film Fest in 2018. I certainly hope not the last, but I can’t say I’ve noticed film festivals significantly diversifying since then. Because, in addition to #OscarsSoWhite, #FilmDirectorsSoWhite, #ProducersSoWhite, and #MediaSoWhiteEurocentric. It’s honestly at times a challenge to find films directed by women, let alone women of color to highlight on the Blog Collab. Can we please fund many more films created by women of color? Come on–we are currently slated to get more Transformers movies, but we can’t see even one more picture made by a Kenyan woman premiere at a film festival?*

*Though note that this film’s director, Wanuri Kahiu, is supposedly involved with an adaptation of Octavia Butler’s novel Wild Seed, and I could not be more excited.

The Film:

Rafiki

The Premise:

Teen girls in Nairobi face rejection and disdain as they fall in love despite the rivalry between their families in a local election.

The Ramble:

Just as tomboy Kena prepares to finish high school, her family implodes, making them the subject of unfavorable gossip and uncomfortable scrutiny. Following her parents’ divorce, Kena’s mother devotes her time to religion, while her father, John, remarries and is expecting a son with his wife. To further complicate matters, John lets gossip make its way to Kena rather than telling her anything directly. His reputation isn’t as stellar as it could be, especially considering John has decided to run against the incumbent in a local election.

Kena, a young Black woman, sits alone at a table near an outdoor food kiosk.

Though Kena is usually content to chill with her small (and quite homophobic) group of guy friends, someone else has been catching her eye of late. The mysterious person in question is Ziki, the daughter of John’s political rival. Ziki seems different from Kena in every possible way: her colorful, feminine style, more affluent background, and comfort with being the center of attention. However, the two share an attraction and a rebellious dream of pursuing lives that are entirely their own.

Kena stands on a rooftop next to Ziki, a woman with hair wrapped in bright colors, looking out at the cityscape of Nairobi.

Even as Kena and Ziki spend time together, they are under the watchful eye of town gossip Mama Atim, who owns the food kiosk Kena favors. As it becomes clear that the two will need to meet in secret, they carve out spaces that are hidden from anyone who may recognize them. Kena shares her dreams of being a nurse, though she has the grades to become a doctor; Ziki reveals that it’s her goal to travel as much as possible. While they don’t know what the future holds, they agree to make something real of it.

Standing close to each other with glow-in-the-dark paint smeared on their faces, Kena and Ziki stare at each other with intensity.

Despite all of the sneaking around at all hours of the night, gossip still makes its way to Kena’s dad, John. What’s more is the local pastor uses his sermons to rail against same-sex marriage. Ziki attempts to hold Kena’s hand during the service, causing their first fight. Though the two make up, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to hide their feelings. After an angry mob, led by none other than Mama Atim, finds Kena and Ziki together, the couple faces a brutal attack. John seems to be the only parent willing to stand by his daughter, while Ziki’s parents are determined to send her away to London.

Among so much resistance from their families and community, can the love between Kena and Ziki stay alive?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

*Spoilers below*

This is a simple story beautifully told. The colors are vividly expressive, reflecting the sweet but intense romance between our two leads. I appreciate that Kena and Ziki have endearing personalities and aspirations outside of their relationship; one of the most frustrating patterns for me in a romance-driven plot is a bland character who is merely a canvas to project desires onto.

Actually, the characters as a whole are written with the nuance to seem real and for us to understand, even if we don’t always sympathize. Mama Atim, the town gossip, is extremely overbearing and frustrating, though there are elements of her character I quite like. In the end, she’s homophobic to the point of refusing treatment from Kena, now a doctor. However, at the same time, she inscrutably reveals to Kena when Ziki is back in town–and I’m not entirely sure how to interpret this. Could there be a grain of compassion in this action or is Mama Atim merely unable to resist gloating over a juicy piece of gossip?

Speaking of Mama Atim, who reflects a pattern of many of the women in our film, I do wish Kena had a single female ally. It’s incredibly touching to see John stand with his daughter at the risk of his political career. And there’s a beautiful moment between Kena and the gay character her friends constantly harass. Most of the women in our story lack the power and authority to stand with LGBTQ members of the community, instead keeping their heads down and maintaining the status quo. Ultimately, acceptance (or lack of acceptance) hinges largely on the reactions of Kena and Ziki’s fathers.

While quite a few heartbreaking and harrowing events unfold, it’s a relief that one of the film’s messages is hope. Director Wanuri Kahiu’s story mirrors the reality of homophobia and religious bigotry in the present yet imagines the possibility of open-mindedness and acceptance for the characters we grow to love in a short time.

Would my blog wife vote for this one or openly tear down all of its campaign posters? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Vigilante, or: Happy Valentine’s Day(?)

CW: domestic violence, child abuse and death

It didn’t occur to me until sitting down to watch this week’s film that we’d post reviews for it on Valentine’s Day. I can’t say this news affects me much since V-Day has always struck me as a rather nonsense holiday (sorry, St. Valentine). However, it’s perhaps a bit too on the nose for the Blog Collab that our film to mark the holiday of love involves very dark themes of domestic violence, revenge, and toxic relationships.

The Film:

A Vigilante

The Premise:

A woman seeks justice for victims of abuse by taking matters into her own hands…while holding onto her own personal vendetta.

The Ramble:

After receiving a message from a married woman living with an abusive husband and fearful for her children, punching bag heavy hitter Sadie gets ready to take action. Applying color contacts, donning a wig, and watching a speedy liquid latex tutorial, she’s certainly got things checked off when it comes to covering her tracks.

When Sadie arrives at the home of the caller (at a time when the kids won’t be around), things take a violent turn pretty quickly. Using her fists to persuade the husband to leave and never return, she first forces him to sign the house over to his wife and transfer all of his money to her bank account. Should he ever return, Sadie assures him she’s very prepared to send him to an early grave.

Sadie, a woman dressed in dark clothes and wearing a frizzy wig, stands in a kitchen, facing a woman who is sitting on a counter.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that a woman who takes on these kinds of endeavors is holding onto some dark secrets of her own. Though Sadie is meticulous about keeping things free of evidence and ready for a quick departure if needed, the scars on her back make it obvious there’s physical and emotional trauma in her past. She keeps a map of a wilderness area with her, marking off locations slowly but surely. When particular sounds begin to play on her phone, Sadie has a meltdown, soothed only by a coloring page that includes the letter C, tracing its pattern repeatedly.

Sadie looks into a mirror, smudging her dark makeup in streaks along her face with bandaged hands.

Ultimately, though, very little can distract Sadie from her mission to help those experiencing abuse. Sadie attends a support group for women who have left violent situations–is this for her own benefit or to connect with people she can help? Though she seems to have a soft spot for children, Sadie intervenes to help a young boy and his brother, yet leaves them to get further support from child services (which feels like a good call and the only choice that makes sense, honestly).

In an empty classroom, a group of women sit in a circle as part of a meeting for survivors of domestic violence.

If you’re guessing that all of these clues add up to an incredibly sad story for Sadie, you’re not wrong. Sadie’s ex was the sort of bonechilling doomsday prepper/wilderness survivalist dreaming of living off the grid who probably would’ve stormed the Capitol in January given the chance. When he finally sees a way to realize his dreams of shitting in the woods and filtering water through a cheesecloth with Sadie and their son, Sadie realizes she needs to get away now or she never will. Unfortunately, she makes a tragic error, and awful trash human attacks Sadie and kills their son. With her ex missing but not declared dead, Sadie gets very little money to survive on as she cannot claim any of the sizeable life insurance policy.

Soon after a woman from group therapy worries that Sadie is throwing her life away, Sadie finally manages to track down her ex. Or, rather, her ex tracks her down just before she does. Clearly Sadie won’t go down without a fight–but will this be her last one?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I oscillated between 3.5 and 4 for this one. First, credit where credit’s due: Olivia Wilde absolutely carries this film uphill in the snow, both ways. There’s a lot going for the film beyond her performance, but so much hangs on her ability to switch between intense emotions and to let those come through in her eyes and facial expressions. On a shallow note, she has some truly excellent wigs.

What’s more is the power of the themes addressed in the film and a semi-realistic approach to the toll that abuse and Sadie’s vigilante lifestyle take on her physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It’s a relief, honestly, to see someone who has made vengeance their mission have human feelings and reactions rather than sort of flip a switch to become an emotionless sociopath (sorry, sociopaths–I know this word gets tossed around unfairly whenever someone means heartless or evil).

However, there were a few things that did take me out of the film a bit. Structurally, there are some issues here. Even though it helped to build tension, the late reveal of Sadie’s past (around halfway through the film) made the story feel a bit disjointed and a little difficult to follow the timeline. Our understanding of why Sadie is helping survivors of abuse changes, as well as the financial motivation she has to track down her husband. I think a narrative that wove Sadie’s past with her present more effectively would have made things more impactful.

And here’s my typical problem with revenge films that A Vigilante falls into in some moments: there is a point in the film where the protagonist has to fulfill their mission of vengeance of the story will not be satisfying. It’s difficult to reconcile that with the idea that revenge is a destructive, all-consuming force, so that theme doesn’t come across quite as powerfully as it should. And the last act of the film was satisfying, but I also felt conflicted about the amount of violence Sadie suffered onscreen at the hands of her husband. Up to this point of the film, the abusive acts happened offscreen, and it felt somewhat voyeuristic to watch these happen. There’s an upsetting part of my brain that wonders if there’s someone jacking off to these scenes or using them to support some twisted conclusion that domestic violence isn’t really a problem because survivors could always just kill their abuser–problem solved.

At this point, I’m not willing to give humanity a whole lot of credit.

Would my blog wife back this one up in a fight or make sure it wound up on the side of the road in a less than alive condition? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Judy & Punch, or: You Say Petrifying Forest Like It’s a Bad Thing

CW: abuse, infant death, animal death

You know, I’ve been worrying for some time that consuming dark, dismal films and TV could be a surefire way to feel even more miserable about our current world situation. There are quite a lot of days when the last thing I need is to see if it’s possible to expand the depression-sized pocket of my brain with an extra dose of bleakness.

However, this line of thinking has fundamentally failed to take into account the way I relate to the world. Sometimes (often), the only way I process darkness is to see it reflected in the media I consume. And while there is a fine line to walk here, the darkness can be a reminder that others see and experience similar fears and frustrations…and use that to make films about puppets, vengeance, and forest witches.

The Film:

Judy & Punch

The Premise:

A puppeteer seeks vengeance against her husband, an abusive man who leaves her for dead after the demise of their baby.

The Ramble:

In the village of Seaside (notably not by the sea), Judy is married to Punch, who declares himself the greatest puppeteer of all time. Once a week, the couple puts on a marionette show at a rather rowdy pub, hoping to catch the eye of a London talent scout one day.

Just like the real Punch & Judy show of old, the puppet show is violent in nature, handling themes of abuse in a hilarious(?) slapstick manner. However, the show is in good company, as its excitement finds a rival only in the periodic stoning to death of witches and heretics who have committed such reprehensible crimes as looking at the moon for a suspiciously long time. Stoning Day is essentially a public holiday, during which all of the villagers gather in their finest clothes (admittedly not all that fine) and unironically vie for the honor of casting the first stone.

At the top of a marionette theater on stage, a man (Punch) and woman (Judy) smile at each other after a successful show.

Despite the violence that permeates her world and the absence of much compassion for others, Judy does her best to care for her baby daughter, aging servants, and townsfolk in need. No one makes this particularly easy, as Punch is a violent drunk who routinely promises he’ll go sober, and even the well-meaning policeman cautions Judy against entertaining the local children with magic tricks lest she be mistaken for a witch.

Now Punch is the kind of self-serving male “genius” who chalks up all of his drunken brawls and frat bro behavior to being a tortured artist. He can’t possibly be expected to have patience with his ailing servants, take care of his daughter for even an hour, or cut back on the violence in the show–not when everything he does is a matter of the creative spirit moving him.

A blonde woman (Judy) stands in a crowd of people in period costume, holding a rock in one hand and a baby with her other arm.

Even with all of these drawbacks to life in the village with Punch, it beats the alternative of fleeing to the mysterious forest on the edge of town. At least, it does until Judy leaves Punch in charge of the baby for a short time. Predictably, Punch drinks to the point of passing out and reminds us all of the Parenting 101 lesson that you should never run while holding a baby.

After Judy returns and demands to know what happened, Punch callously tells her they should simply move on with their lives. When Judy has, I don’t know, a human reaction to the death of her child, Punch beats her to the point of believing she’s dead, burying her body in the creepy woods of doom.

From here on out, Punch proves he is full of nothing if not schemes. Framing his elderly servants for Judy’s murder, Punch reports his wife and child missing to the authorities. Though the local police officer argues for a thorough investigation that weighs all of the evidence, other leaders in the village dismiss this concept as radical, opting for a swift public hanging. You know, to make sure people don’t get bored.

Meanwhile, Judy’s dead body is decomposing in the forest…or is it? Obviously not. Several children who are part of a group of heretics living in the woods find Judy, delivering her to Dr. Goodtime, a woman who was barred from practicing medicine in the village. The doctor revives Judy, who remembers with a scream of rage all of the ways she has been wronged.

In a heavily wooded forest, a group primarily made up of women gathers around the body of an unconscious woman whose face is covered in blood.

While Judy adjusts to life in the forest and her new adopted family, it is her anger that fuels her. Dr. Goodtime warns Judy that she will eventually have to choose either to stay with the nomadic heretics or allow vengeance to consume her…and you can guess how well that goes over.

As the date of the execution draws nearer, Punch grows increasingly paranoid even as he is determined to revitalize the puppet show that owed much of its success to Judy’s organization and skill with the marionette. Can Judy help her former servants escape a death sentence, make Punch suffer for his crimes, and hold onto her newfound sense of belonging?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

My first 4 star review of 2021 reminds us to lean into the darkness. As my incredible blog wife and I discussed in detail, upbeat, feel-good pieces aren’t the kind of antidote we need in troubling times. Finding a film that reflects a bitter view of reality brings us the comfort of connecting with a kindred spirit.

I won’t say this film is free of problems. For a film that’s driven by Judy’s quest for revenge, Punch gets a lot of screen time. In some ways, his constant presence makes us really root for his comeuppance; at other points, it feels like the amount of attention he gets reinforces the problematic dynamic between the characters. Punch gets to dominate the screen and take away time that could have been more interestingly spent exploring Judy’s character or the lifestyle and dynamics of the group of heretics.

Additionally, there are some things that are wrapped up a bit too neatly. Judy gives an impassioned speech at the end of the story that seems to radically change how the villagers perceive outsiders. Not buying it. And speaking of groups on the fringes of society, it’s a bit convenient that we hear about the challenges of the heretics’ nomadic lifestyle with perhaps 20 minutes left of the film…and manage to get a satisfying conclusion to this dilemma.

But as a whole, this was exactly the kind of film I needed at the moment. You absolutely must enjoy dark humor to appreciate this one, though it is much more of a comedy than anything else (despite the dark premise). It feels a bit like a mashup of a less violent/sweary Quentin Tarantino and Sweeney Todd with an intentionally feminist bent, more self-awareness about the nature of violence, and a huge dose of unexpected humor. There are a lot of revenge films I don’t find particularly satisfying, but I was invested in this one and absolutely dying to see a horrible fate befall Punch.

Unsurprisingly, when women have a pagan-inspired bonfire in the woods (that has nothing to do with the Klan), I’m here for it.

Would my blog wife run off to join a band of forest-dwelling witches and heretics or–silly question. But find out her thoughts on the film in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I Am Not an Easy Man, or: Is a French Tootsie a Toot Suite?

Okay, it’s still January for a few more hours. But would anyone really object to wrapping up this month a little bit early? It’s already been a tough year, and it’s likely to remain challenging.

In the spirit of getting on with 2021 (and sparing us yet another uplifting film that merely makes us roll our eyes with disdain), we’re kicking off Feminist February now. Delightfully, we have the potential to get 5 films in during one of our favorite months of the Collab. Will this week’s pick bring in the month with a bang or a whimper?

The Film:

I Am Not an Easy Man

The Premise:

After waking up in an alternate reality, a chauvinist must contend with a matriarchal world in which women hold the power and influence.

The Ramble:

Absolutely epitomizing the word “sleaze,” Damien is a man thoroughly sexist and gross in every context. His most recent professional triumph is a proposal for an app that keeps data on a person’s sex life from year to year…and by “person” I mean “heterosexual man.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Damien’s behavior towards his female colleagues can only be described as harassment.

A man (Damien) leans against a display in a book shop, flirting with a smiling blonde woman.

Damien uses his free time to check out literally every woman he encounters and try to pick up every one he finds attractive. At a book signing for his old friend Christophe, Damien meets new assistant Alexandra. She is less than impressed with Damien’s slick moves, promising that the only way they would ever get together would be in another world. Hmmmm…prophetic.

Catching up with Christophe on the way home, Damien gets so distracted harassing women on the street that he walks face first into a street sign. After sustaining a nasty head bump, Damien wakes up to find female paramedics helping him, along with a concerned Christophe.

In the world Damien now lives, the order of the day is toxic matriarchy rather than patriarchy. Roles are reversed, so that Damien sports a much more revealing wardrobe and is constantly checked out by women on the street and at his female-dominated workplace.

It’s not long before Damien learns of the firm’s upcoming Vulvometer app, a spin on his brilliant(?) idea. Disgusted by the app, enraged that his idea has been stolen, and talked down to or harassed by virtually every woman at work, Damien has a meltdown that results in his firing.

A man (Damien) sits on the couch with a bag of frozen peas on his head, brushing his teeth and petting a cat sitting next to him.

After talking to a psychiatrist who dismisses Damien’s concerns that there’s something wrong, there’s nothing to do but try to score with all of the sexually liberated women in this new reality. However, this proves more difficult than anticipated, as the first woman he goes out with takes him to a male strip club and is horrified by Damien’s unwaxed chest.

Leaning on Christophe, now a struggling father trying to nurture his family, Damien shares his worries now that he’s unemployed. Luckily, Christophe has a connection; while he’s on parental leave, his writer boss is in need of an assistant. The writer? Alexandra, obviously.

Alexandra ticks off all of the boxes usually reserved for the male genius: self-absorbed, balancing a rotating string of men, constantly showing off her abs. In between constantly harassing her new assistant, Alexandra learns of Damien’s supposed delusions. Intrigued by the idea of a patriarchal society, she decides to get close to him…all in the name of gathering information for her new book.

A woman (Alexandra) sits up in bed, shirt open. A man (Damien) sleeps, his head resting in her lap.

Meanwhile, Damien gets involved with the men’s rights group, Tits for Tat. Advocating for greater opportunities and representation for men, the group shows up at female-focused events wearing fake breasts to…make some kind of point, apparently.

On top of this, Damien must contend with his parents, who wonder when he will stop being a pathetic single cat man. Everywhere he turns, there are images of men being sexualized. To make matters worse, Damien has a huge falling out with Christophe, who learns that his wife has cheated.

As Damien gets closer to Alexandra, she begins to develop genuine feelings for him. However, she is a woman of many secrets and dysfunctional patterns of behavior. Is love enough to change the heart of a female chauvinist?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Conceptually, I like this quite a lot. However, the execution leaves something to be desired. Tonally, this is a very odd film. It’s billed as a sort of romantic comedy, though I don’t think Damien and Alexandra are exactly #CoupleGoals in any reality. On the other hand, this is a satirical social commentary, and the ending is downright chilling, to be honest.

I think where things break down a bit is the film’s understanding of feminism and gender, both of which lack nuance. Our story is meant to teach Damien a lesson about his bad behavior, but I don’t think it does a whole lot to actually represent feminist values. After all, the point of feminism is not for women to switch places with men and inherit patriarchal systems of oppression. Nor is it to imply that there is one correct way to be a woman, man, or non-binary individual. I know this, darling Christa knows this, our film knows this. But does every viewer? Surely I need not remind you that there are actual men’s rights groups in this reality that genuinely believe they are being oppressed.

Depending on the gender binary too much creates a lot of problems in our film. There are times when the tone misses the mark, seeming to ridicule effeminate men–as if that’s not something that already happens quite a lot. Overall, there’s not a lot of imagination put into LGBTQ existence in this matriarchal world. Additionally, characters of color are noticeably absent. This may be for the best, truth told–the one scene that addresses the concept of Muslim veiled men is downright cringey.

I did laugh at some of the absurd role reversals, especially getting a kick out of Damien’s ludicrous chest hair. And, intentional or not, I found the unplugged version of “You’re the One That I Want” that played at a club hysterical.

Ultimately, I find this film’s literal role reversal less than true to the spirit of feminism. IMHO, Tootsie did it better.

Would my blog wife approve of this one’s form in its layers of shapewear or leave before it even wakes up? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Horse Girl, or: Surrounded by Neigh-Sayers

It’s never a bad thing to see more films written and directed by women, especially during Feminist February. This week’s pick stars and was co-written by Netflix legend Alison Brie (of GLOW, BoJack, and the show we don’t talk about on Netflix, Community). Qualification for Feminist February met. Qualification for fun evening of light entertainment? Er…very much dependent on your definition of fun.

The Film:

Horse Girl

The Premise:

A familial history of mental illness and increasingly paranoid conspiracy theories take over the life of a quiet craft store employee and horse enthusiast.

The Ramble:

A quiet woman who keeps to herself, Sarah is a craft store employee by day, obsessive fan of the TV show Purgatory by night, and lover of horses at all hours. Though she is friendly with boss Molly Shannon and roommate Nikki, Sarah prefers to keep some distance between herself and others. At any given moment, it seems Sarah would much rather be spending time with the horse she used to ride or with her favorite TV characters.

Two women stand inside next to a store window, wearing light blue apron uniforms over their everyday clothes.

When her birthday shakes her out of the usual routine, Sarah meets Darren, a friend of Nikki’s boyfriend. Both Sarah and Darren are rather awkward, with Darren droning on incessantly about concept albums and his horrible ex. Sarah, meanwhile, has been experiencing more and more strange symptoms–one of which is a nosebleed during their date. But Darren thinks Sarah is cute, and Sarah considers his name–shared with one of the lead characters of Purgatory–a sign that they’re meant to be.

After drinking too much and throwing up, Sarah has a strange dream in which she’s lying in a white room, two people sleeping on either side of her. When she wakes up the next morning, there are strange scratches on the walls, though Sarah has no recollection of how they got there.

A man and woman sit close together in a small, dimly lit dining area, facing each other from separate dining chairs.

Odd incidents begin happening more frequently during Sarah’s waking and dreaming life. Her car is stolen and, when it is found, the facts don’t quite add up. The key is in the car’s ignition, and the steering wheel lock sits unlocked on the passenger seat. Worried about the increasing number of times Sarah is forgetting things, she fears the mental illnesses that overtook her mother and grandmother’s lives may affect her too.

The alternative explanation that Sarah begins to embrace is that she is losing time due to alien abduction, and her vivid dreams are not dreams at all. Because she looks so much like her grandmother, Sarah begins to believe she is a clone created by aliens. When she sees the man from her dream in real life, Sarah becomes convinced her theory is the truth and is obsessed with tracking him down. She even goes as far as hiring his company to do unnecessary pipe replacement and follows him to his home one evening.

A woman in a dark room looks down. She is covered from head to toe in a light pink outfit that covers everything except for her face.

When she meets Darren for another date, Sarah begins explaining her theories to him, and their discussion turns more broadly to conspiracies. It’s only when Sarah shows Darren her mother’s grave and tells him they need to dig her up to compare their DNA that he realizes how deeply she believes in her own conspiracy theories.

After performing a series of rituals at home to trick the aliens, Sarah wanders into the craft store completely naked. She is taken into a psychiatric care facility, but only becomes more convinced that she’s been right all along during her stay there, and less able to distinguish between reality and dreams. Will psychiatric care help Sarah be well at this point…and does she even want to?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Alison Brie deserves so much credit for this role–as with many of the characters she plays, here a seemingly innocuous person is more complex and disturbed than she initially appears. Brie makes Sarah a sympathetic character whose odd behavior at the beginning of the film merely scratches the surface on the delusions and feelings she experiences later. And the extreme thoughts and feelings Sarah has are out of touch with reality, but they never feel laughable–they are unquestionably real to her.

This concept is what makes the film so compelling, and at times scary to watch. It’s very interested in asking to what extent biology is destiny: does the mental illness or trauma we inherit from our families predict our own dysfunction? And, perhaps more importantly, what does it mean to manage mental illness? Sarah’s delusions seem to give her a sense of real conviction for the first time in her life. It seems likely that her dedication to the show Purgatory and need for her life to have some sort of narrative structure plays a role in her willingness to believe in her own version of reality. But would her DNA have led her down the same path regardless?

The film itself can be difficult to follow at times, as its structure is somewhat loose, and uses this to blur the lines between dream and reality (and, honestly, the tone is quite wonky as well). This quality does keep things interesting as we continue to hope Sarah can heal; however, it’s increasingly impossible to imagine an ending in which she finds both peace and clarity. I feel fairly certain this film will haunt anyone who has experienced mental illness.

Would my blog wife don matching alien-proof body suits with this one or run away while it’s distracted with a marathon of Ancient Aliens? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bitch, or: Who Let the Dogs Out?

#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

The Film:

Bitch

The Premise:

After being pushed too far, a depressed wife and mother finally snaps, adopting the behavior and mannerisms of a female dog.

The Ramble:

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.

A woman with an extremely dirty face looks over her shoulder, baring her teeth threateningly.

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.

A group of four children sit in the hallway of their home. An older boy sits by himself, while an older girl covers the ears of her younger brother, who in turn covers his younger sister's ears.

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?

The Rating:

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.

Would my blog wife take this film for its daily walk or snarl at it from a dimly lit basement? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Wild Rose, or: I Och the Line

It’s February on the Blog Collab, meaning all month long will be dedicated to feminism on film! Kicking things off is a tale of that smooth Nashville sound in…Glasgow?

The Film:

Wild Rose

The Premise:

An aspiring country singer dreams of starting over in Nashville as she struggles to balance her hopes for the future with her responsibilities in the present.

The Ramble:

After serving out a prison sentence, Glaswegian Rose-Lynn is intent on one thing only: making it to Nashville to prove her talent as the rising country music star she knows she is.

Too bad Rose has a couple of considerations that need her attention first: specifically, her young children, Wynonna and Lyle. Those pesky kids! While incarcerated, Rose’s children have been living with their grandmother, Marion. And you know she’s a fierce, no-nonsense woman because she’s played by Julie Walters.

A red-haired woman blows out the candles on her birthday cake, sitting between two young children and an older woman with white hair.

Having burned her bridges, Rose’s efforts to reclaim her spot on the stage of Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry fail miserably. In need of a day job where she can earn money and meet the curfew set by her ankle monitor, Rose finagles her way into a position cleaning the home of a wealthy family (conveniently leaving out her past trouble with the law).

It’s not long before mom of the family Susannah learns of Rose’s gifts as a musician. Rose has an almost non-existent sense of shame, asking Susannah outright for the money to send her to Nashville. Though Susannah declines this request, she does help her get in contact with BBC radio DJ Bob Harris, who is impressed with her style.

A woman stands onstage with the members of a band playing string instruments, percussion, and the accordion.

Though Rose’s children seem to fall somewhere in the middle of her list of priorities, she does begin to make a serious effort to make amends. Cleaning the house and fixing breakfast earn her some credit, and reading through their accomplishments at school has her almost caught up on the time she’s missed.

After an invite to London to meet with Bob, Rose works with her lawyer to have the ankle monitor removed. Tellingly, she insists that her crime of attempting to smuggle heroin wasn’t her fault, and the person to blame in all of this is the judge. In keeping with her past behavior, Rose gets drunk on the way to London and ends up losing her bag. Though she receives encouragement from Bob to write and perform her own songs, the meeting brings Rose no closer to Nashville.

A middle-aged African-American woman stands outside in a garden, facing a white woman with red hair.

Susannah, on the other hand, offers a solution. Rose will perform at her 50th birthday party. The upper-crust guests, instead of bringing gifts for Susannah, will sponsor Rose’s trip to Nashville. The catch? Rose will need to rehearse during the week prior, which incidentally is the week she promised her children a trip to the beach.

After disappointing her children, Rose reveals the truth about her past to Susannah, thus dashing her dreams of a future in Nashville. When she finds a proper job, it seems Rose is ready to settle down and let go of her dreams. Is this really the life that will make fiery Rose happy?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Julie Walters could have just scowled disapprovingly throughout this entire film and I still would have loved her. Luckily, she does much more with the tough character she plays here, showing the frustration for her daughter comes from a place of love.

Jessie Buckley is also phenomenal in her role; Rose is very often a difficult character to root for. She absolutely will not take responsibility for her life during most of the film and seems pretty comfortable with disappointing the people around her–especially her children. But her gritty determination, as well as her growth as a character, come through beautifully. And I am obsessed with her voice; there’s so much soulful country sadness there. I dare you to look me in the eye and tell me you weren’t a weepy mess during Rose’s final song, a lovely ode to home and family.

Did the three chords and the truth here speak to my fierce blog wife or would she skip to the next song ASAP? Read her review here to find out!

a woman with teased hair extinguishes a candle's flame with her fingers while a woman with hair in a scrunchie looks directly at the camera
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Breaker Upperers, or: All My Life I’ve Prayed for Some Movie Like You

It’s almost March, meaning Feminist February is drawing to a close.  I’m sad the month is ending, but happy to report we’re wrapping up this month on a positive note with dramatic break-ups, surprise Kiwi cameos, and all of the ’90s vibes you can stand.

The Film:

The Breaker Upperers

The Premise:

Two best friends find their relationship and shared business venture in jeopardy when clients get too close and an ex arrives in town.

The Ramble:

In addition to being besties, New Zealanders Mel and Jen are business partners in a rather unique profession.  Their job?  Deliver bad break-up news for those who go to extreme measures to avoid it themselves.  The duo can hardly be faulted for lacking creativity; their methods include song and dance, fake deaths, police investigations, and surprise pregnancies.

Though a rather cynical line of work, Mel and Jen run a profitable business and enjoy living their best lives free of romantic entanglements.

a woman with pigtail braids stands next to a woman in a cowboy hat who is playing the guitar and harmonica

That is, of course, until the day everything changes.  After Jordan, a sweet but clueless client, walks into the office, he disrupts the usually reliable business model.  Mel feels guilty for using Jordan’s unhappiness to make money and happens to find him quite attractive too.

Complications abound when Jen’s ex, who also seems to be the one that got away, arrives back in town.  His presence surfaces tensions between Mel and Jen as he was dating both women secretly when he broke Jen’s heart.

Despite Mel’s misgivings about the latest breakup case, the duo arrives at Jordan’s rugby match to cause a scene.  Jordan’s girlfriend Sepa is a tough lady, and not one to be trifled with.  As a result, when Mel pretends to be Jordan’s pregnant lover and Jen his mother, the plan does not go as expected.  However, at the end of the day, Jordan is single and Mel is free to have a fling with him.

a woman with cornrows surrounded by four other people looks intimidatingly at another woman

Meanwhile, the ladies’ history catches up with them as a client’s girlfriend approaches them at lunch for an update on her partner’s disappearance.  Mel and Jen demonstrate an impressive commitment to keeping up the facade that they are cops investigating the case, going so far as to show up at the police station in full uniform and posing as birthday strippers for a real cop.

Inevitably, the true nature of Mel and Jen’s work is revealed, leaving Mel feeling guilty.  A fight between our dynamic duo about Mel becoming too attached to clients and Jen avoid feelings altogether finally breaks up the band.

a woman dressed as a police officer swings her utility belt around while another woman in police uniform looks on

As both Sepa and Jen have been ditched and want their partners back, it’s time for a grand gesture to prove their devotion.  But is an expertly choreographed K-Ci and JoJo dance routine enough to heal old wounds and reunite these former besties?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I feel this movie was made for the Blog Collab.  Obviously the pro-friendship/anti-romantic themes are everywhere in some of our favorite picks.  Also the weird, offbeat humor had me in tears.  Mel makes an especially cringeworthy joke about a superhero named Vulvarine during dinner with Jen’s parents that cracked me up.

My only criticism here is that Mel’s bisexuality seems to be mentioned purely for laughs.  I got tired of all of the jokes about Jen and Mel being romantically involved.  Friends, lovers, life partners–who cares?

Though this is not a musical, we get not one, but two incredibly ’90s-influenced song and dance numbers.  The first one, set to a Céline Dion song, is everything to me.  I pray to the powers of the universe that the next film with our two stars is a musical or just a series of music video parodies.

I love both of our leads, Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek (who also co-wrote and directed this film), but honestly Ana Scotney as Sepa steals the show.  She manages to inhabit the tough girl stereotype while lending the role a vulnerability hidden beneath the surface.  Sepa also gets my absolute favorite line of the film when the breakup with Jordan throws her for a loop:  “All the times we played Dragon Ball Z–does that mean nothing to you?”

Speaking of this film’s cast, there are some delightful cameos here too.  I know you can just Google the cast, but the fun of these appearances is in the surprise.

Is this my blog wife’s bff for life or would she hire the breaker upperers to make sure she never has to face it again?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Whip It, or: The Bo City Rollers

Bookshop owner-operators, scantily clad entertainers at a sports bar, Texas roller derby girls–what else could these characters have in common but Feminist February?

The Film:

Whip It

The Premise:

When she secretly joins a roller derby team, teenaged Bliss finds a second family but puts her other relationships–and skeletal system–at risk.

The Ramble:

In addition to her rather unfortunate name, teenager Bliss has inherited the burden of her mother’s expectations:  specifically, her expectation that Bliss will take the beauty pageant scene by storm as her mother did.

After an incident with blue hair dye gone awry, it becomes clear that Bliss’s mother takes pageants much more seriously than her daughter.  In fact, even Bliss’s younger sister seems more excited about competing despite her young age.

Though stuck in the small Texas town of Boden, it’s not all bad.  Bliss has her fellow waitress and bff Pash to keep her company and get into all of the best kinds of trouble with.  As long as she has her bestie, Bliss seems resigned to her fate as a perpetual beauty contestant.

two girls at a diner talk next to the bar, both wearing pink aprons with pig faces on them

That is, until one day while shopping with her mother, Bliss sees a group of giggling women swan in on roller skates.  From flyers they pass around, Bliss learns these are derby girls and decides she will find a way to get to the derby in Austin.

Under the guise of attending a high school football game, Bliss and Pash drive to Austin to check out the roller derby.  Bliss is immediately interested in both the sport and a generically cute guy.  After derby girl Maggie Mayhem invites Bliss to try out on Tuesday, she schemes to cover up her absence with her parents, find a route to Austin via public transport, and conveniently forget the rule that players must be at least 21.

Trying out for the Hurl Scouts is no cake walk–the women are fast, intense, and fully ready to body check competitors in this contact sport.  As a speedy skater, Bliss is a perfect contender for the role of jammer, the only one on each team who can score points.  The jammers will attempt to lap the other team members, scoring a point for each lap.  Fellow team members will help their jammer along while trying to sabotage the other team’s jammer–frequently with physical contact that can leave a vicious bruise.

two women in helmets crouch next to each other, preparing to race in a roller derby rink

Despite Bliss’s speed, she timidly avoids altercations with her competitors–kind of a problem in a contact sport.  However, she does join the team and earn her derby girl name, Babe Ruthless.

It’s only after joining the team that Bliss learns the Hurl Scouts are notorious in the league as constant losers.  As the song goes, girls just wanna have fun, and the team really leans into its reputation.  They certainly aren’t improving their odds by ignoring their long-suffering coach and refusing to carry out the plays from his painstakingly created play book.

While bonding with the team after hours, Bliss runs into the cute guy again at a party.  She learns that he, like every other 20-something dude since the beginning of time, is in a shitty band that thinks it’s destined for greatness.  Oliver, which I think is actually a nice name and better than this dude deserves, and his band do seem to have some success as they do have an album.

a teenage boy and girl lie next to each other on the hood of a car parked by a field

With Bliss as jammer and the coach’s plays guiding their games, the Hurl Scouts begin to enjoy success too, winning against some of the other teams for the first time ever.  Everything seems to be falling into place for Bliss, who also gets serious with Oliver in an underwater sex scene that looks logistically very difficult to accomplish.

a group of women toast a teenage girl at a diner, holding up a poster of her

However, things inevitably begin to unravel after the police break up a derby that violates fire safety regulations.  Caught with beer in hand, Pash is arrested.  Bliss, who escapes with Oliver, doesn’t realize the trouble her bff is in.  To make matters worse, Bliss’s parents learn the truth about her roller derby nights as a result, Bliss’s rival Iron Maven discovers that her fiercest competitor is just 17, and Oliver will shortly be off on tour with the band.

Having alienated everyone she cares about and put the Hurl Scouts’ chance at victory in jeopardy, will Bliss be able to make things right while following her dreams?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The cast here is absolutely stellar:  Ellen Page (even though she sometimes falls into the trap of playing the same character over and over again), Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Eve, Alia Shawkat, Drew Barrymore…I could go on.  Additionally, this is Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut.  Not sure if Drew decided against sitting in the director’s chair again because I can’t think of another reason we live in a world with no more director credits for her.

As well as Bliss’s coming of age story, I love the focus on the ladies here and their relationships.  Bliss and Pash’s relationship is everything to me, and the rapport among the Hurl Scouts is so uplifting.  The film approaches Bliss’s difficult relationship with her mother realistically but doesn’t paint Brooke as a one-dimensional monster, which is refreshing.  As for the men, if you’re not here to support Bliss, you’re not welcome at all.  Men are definitely on the sidelines in this film.

However, there are a few issues that stood out to me with the film too.  The entire storyline with Oliver feels unnecessary.  I know the sexual awakening scene is basically a requirement of any coming-of-age film now, but I gave zero fucks about it.  At least this film doesn’t idealize teenage romance with what is essentially a mediocre white dude who plays guitar slightly above average.

I also felt like I was missing some further explanation of Brooke’s insistence on Bliss’s beauty pageant participation and opposition to roller derby.  Is the pageant supposed to pay for Bliss to attend college?  Did pageants mean so much to Brooke that she thinks it’s important for Bliss to carry on the tradition?  I would’ve liked a bit more depth as the (spoiler) reversal of her parents’ strong anti-derby stance feels a little too convenient.

The roller derby name “Jabba the Slut” deserves its own corner of appreciation, though.

Would my blog wife roll with this one or knock it out of the ring?  Find out by reading her review here!