Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Princess Cyd, or: Is It Too Late to Say Soirée?

I’m sad to wrap up Feminist February…even though, let’s be real–in this Blog Collab, it’s always Feminist February.  We’re back in our indie groove yet again for a film centered around female relationships and the ways they shape our leading ladies.

The Film:

Princess Cyd

The Premise:

A teen visits her novelist aunt for a summer, leading to discoveries about herself and several of the women in her life.

The Ramble:

Cyd, a seemingly well-adjusted teen living in South Carolina with her father, is currently driving everyone up the wall.  Under the pretense of checking out Chicago’s colleges, Cyd goes to stay with her aunt Miranda for a few weeks in the summer.

Miranda, a successful novelist, lives a relatively quiet life in the house where she grew up with Cyd’s mother.  Since Cyd’s mother died violently nearly 10 years before, the family has drifted out of touch.

Though Cyd has a boyfriend at home, she is immediately attracted to a barista she meets after getting lost on a run around the neighborhood.  When the barista, Katie, invites Cyd out for a walk, they later have to slow dance on a balcony for art.

Two teens walk side-by-side down a summer street.

Meanwhile, Cyd has deep conversations with her aunt about life, religion, sex, and death.  You know, polite family small talk.  Cyd encourages her aunt, who frequently writes about single, divorced, or unhappily partnered people, to date a longterm friend.  However, Miranda seems pretty keen on maintaining her solitary but fulfilled life.

Two middle-aged people stand in a room, looking at each other somewhat uncomfortably.
Sexual tension or awkwardly trying to get out of a conversation that just won’t end?

The two women get into the routine of sunbathing in Miranda’s garden, though initially Miranda claims she doesn’t even own a bathing suit.  Cyd, despite not being a reader, picks up Miranda’s books and starts to gain some insight into her aunt’s life.

A middle-aged woman in a one-piece swimsuit lies on a towel next to a teen in a two-piece bikini.
Everyone in this film always looks at least this flawless.

If the film can be said to have a structured plot, it’s all about Miranda’s soirée, a word she repeats approximately 4,835 times.  Cyd decides to make a splash at the party by borrowing a tux from Katie–damn, grrrrrrrl.  She pulls off the look.  She really fucking pulls off the look.

A young woman walks into a garden wearing an elegant tuxedo.
If Idris Elba isn’t the next James Bond…Cyd?

After the party, Cyd and Miranda get into a fight about Cyd’s actions, but it quickly delves into deeper philosophical and spiritual realms.  They are snapped back to reality when Katie experiences a crisis with her brother’s friend, and Cyd and Miranda are there for her.  It is through Katie that we learn the meaning behind the film’s title, as well as discover what really happened to Cyd’s mother (spoiler alert:  it’s really sad).

Will Cyd and Miranda allow the summer to change them or is it better to keep the past in the past?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

First off, the aesthetic of this film is beautiful.  Jessie Pinnick (Cyd) is gorgeous, so there are tons and tons and tons of close-ups on her face.  At times this gets uncomfortable and starts to feel voyeuristic to me.  I do like our main 3 ladies a lot and enjoy that they all have unique perspectives and approaches to life that complement each other rather than conflict.

The thing I really appreciate about the dynamic between Cyd and Miranda is that they influence each other and draw out the best rather than transforming.  Cyd is incredibly direct and unafraid to ask questions, but she learns to do so in a way that’s inquisitive without diminishing viewpoints different from her own.  Miranda, in the act of sunbathing in her backyard with Cyd, embraces some of her carefree attitude and confidence in her body.  If this were a generic rom-com, Cyd would set Miranda up with her friend.  But instead, Cyd learns to accept her aunt’s independent, aromantic life is not equivalent to an empty existence.

Confession time:  while I liked the ideas and themes here, I did find the plot very meandering.  There was something that didn’t quite click for me–maybe since my last pick was a Disney film I was expecting bigger drama and more sentimentality.

Would my blog wife attend a soirée with this one or annoy it with a series of overly personal questions?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Irreplaceable You, or: Christopher Bird Watchin’

What do you do with a terminal cancer diagnosis?  Get angry, despair, feel shock?  If your answer is to plan out your significant other’s romantic life without you, you may belong in this week’s film.  You may also want to reevaluate your choices, but hey–do what you want.

The Film:

Irreplaceable You

The Premise:

A young woman with a rare form of cancer decides to find a partner to care for her fiancé after her death.

The Ramble:

Pulling no punches, narrator Abbie immediately tells us she is no more; she has ceased to be; she has passed on; she is dead.  Sadly, Abbie was only in her 30s when she passed away.  Though she seems to be at peace, she worries about the future of her fiancé, Sam.

A man and woman smile at each other, with the woman wearing a cool dress embellished with buttons that look like flowers.
I am obsessed with Abbie’s button dress.

After growing up together, Abbie and Sam are finally ready to tie the knot when it seems that Abbie is pregnant.  However, the gods are such fucking assholes, and it turns out the growth in Abbie’s stomach is a malignant tumor.  The wedding plans are decidedly off, though initially the two try to carry on as usual.  Sam continues to teach in his role as a TA, while Abbie keeps working as something or other to do with children’s publishing?

Abbie does join a support group that crochets together, where she meets Christopher Walken, Kate McKinnon, and Steve Coogan.  I thought Kate and Steve were completely wasted here, as 90% of what they do is sit around in a circle and crochet.  Tami Sagher plays one of the supporting characters in the group, and I think she has much funnier lines here (though Kate does have a good one about Catholic yoga).

A man and woman sit in a circle as part of a group therapy session; the woman is actress Kate McKinnon.
If it works for Kate, it’s good enough for me.

The dynamic between Abbie and Christopher Walken (Myron) is great as the two bond immediately, discussing life, rare birds, and ugly vests.  Myron tries to help Abbie accept things as they are and spend more time focusing on the present–advice that is largely ignored.

A man and woman stand next to each other, looking through binoculars.
Birding or filming a low budget version of Rear Window?

While Abbie undergoes treatment, she doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  She begins to worry about what will happen to Sam when she’s no longer around to help him.  Will he be able to take care of himself?  Will he go through a “slut phase” as Christopher Walken predicts?  To ease her fears, Abbie begins scoping out women for Sam to date after she dies.  This is both incredibly morbid and cringingly anti-feminist as Abbie judgmentally dismisses cat ladies, sluts, and general weirdos.

Just when Abbie is ready to give up, she meets a waitress who really clicks with Sam.  However, Abbie isn’t as up for all of this as she thought she was and realizes getting what she wants may be the worst possible outcome.  After Sam finds out about Abbie’s plan, he’s upset about her scheming and attempts to control his life.  Will the couple make up before it’s too late?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

My biggest problem with this one is the uneven tone–I never totally understood if this was supposed to be funny or tragic because it fell flat on both counts.  There was a moment between Abbie and her sassy nurse that felt genuine, but many of the other emotional moments felt empty to me.  It’s also confusing to see so many comedians in roles that aren’t that funny, though Christopher Walken is great, of course.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Abbie does well despite lack of interesting material–both leads are pretty bland.  Abbie is a bit of a nightmarish type A stereotype, while Sam is so devoid of personality he’s practically a blank canvas for Abbie.

There were a couple of other issues that occurred to me throughout the film.  For one, how are Abbie and Sam not concerned about money?  They seem to be existing on a TA’s income, paying for expensive treatments, and (spoiler) later planning a wedding.  The other thing that really bothered me was Abbie’s narration as a…ghost?  This is never explained, and Abbie does admit she’s having trouble leaving Sam behind, but this isn’t necessarily the focus of the film.  This part of the story feels like an aside and gives us a rather unsatisfying ending.

That being said, Abbie and Sam’s apartment is fucking perfect and what my filthy hipster dreams are made of.

A man and woman face each other in an apartment decorated with florals, plants, and book cases
Drooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool.

Would my blog wife find a partner for this one or let it die alone (too soon)?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Queen of Katwe, or: The Chess Version of Billy Elliot

Feminist February may be in its 3rd year(?!?!?!), but that doesn’t mean it’s too late for firsts.  This week’s film is our first Disney feature on the Blog Collab, first set in Uganda, and first (and probably last) all about chess.  Definitely not the first to make me cry an embarrassing number of times.

The Film:

Queen of Katwe

The Premise:

The true story of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan girl who rose quickly to become a chess master.

The Ramble:

For those of you, like me, who always want to know what a title means–Katwe is a slum in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, where Phiona grows up.  One of four children, Phiona takes care of her younger siblings and sells maize to support the family.  Since her father died, Phiona’s single mother, Nakku (Lupita Nyong’o!!!), struggles to keep the family together and under a roof.  Phiona’s older sister, Night, has had enough and takes off with her scooter riding boyfriend.  After this act of rebellion, Night helps the family financially but is essentially dead to her mother.

A young woman speaks angrily to a young man on a motorcycle.
You kids get off my lawn!

Meanwhile, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo!) is an engineer searching for a job in Kampala.  When he discovers all of the engineering jobs are completely about who you know rather than what you know, he must settle for a part-time gig as a coach with a small ministry.  Luckily, the family has a second string as his wife Sara is an elementary school teacher.

In Robert’s chest beats the tender heart of a chess nerd, and his passion project with the ministry is trying to get all the kids hooked on chess.  He hopes to develop the talents of his pupils in order to show the privileged what they can achieve.  No unresolved childhood issues there at all.

An African man holds up a chess piece to a group of children who look on.
Yeah, you’ve already lost me, dude.

Enter Phiona, stage right.  When she stumbles upon the chess club in action (and gets free food–possibly the only reason I’d ever stick around for chess), Phiona decides to try playing despite some of the kids being little assholes who tease her for being dirty.  Though initially confused by the many rules of the game (I’m there with you, girl), with practice Phiona learns to master the game–even winning against the group’s current champion.  In a scenario that feels way too real, Phiona actually feels bad about winning and apologizes for it.

Soon, Robert figures out a way around the snobby prep school’s efforts to exclude the team from a chess championship.  However, it turns out stuck-up rich kids are the least of his problems when Phiona’s mother finds out what she and her brother have been up to.  Suspecting ulterior motives and fearing her children will be unable to earn money for the family, Nakku forbids them from playing chess again.  That is, until Robert promises he will find a way to get them into school if they’re allowed to play.

I think it’s no spoiler to tell you that the rich kids are absolute douches and Phiona wins against the smug little assholes.  Still, she doubts her abilities and believes she only won because her opponent let her.

A room is filled with African teens competing in many different chess games.
NERDS.

Nevertheless, things seem to be falling into place until Phiona’s brother is in a terrible accident, the family is left without money, and they are evicted from their home.  Phiona also starts to realize the injustice of the chess world.  Though she has beaten players with the world-class mentors, she goes back to a dissatisfying existence where mundane chores take precedence over the exciting(?) game of chess.  Despairing of her life, Phiona belongs neither in Katwe nor among the wealthy.

A group of youths sit at an outdoor table at a restaurant, toasting each other with fries and ketchup.
If the prize for winning a chess championship were fries and ketchup, I might be a bit more inclined to make an effort.

After a series of wins, Phiona is determined to continue playing chess–and, vitally, to make money from it.  She and Robert travel to Russia to compete professionally, which may help her earn a stipend to support her family.  However, things do not go as planned, and a disappointed Phiona is ready to give up.  When the rainy season washes away their home, the fraught relationship between Nakku and Night reaches a boiling point, and Robert faces a difficult career decision, does this mean the end of Phiona’s dreams?

Clearly not or it wouldn’t be a Disney film.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I wouldn’t call this a new favorite, but it has a stellar cast, a fairly action-packed plot (for a film about chess), and a genuine heart holding it all together.  Thematically, this has a lot in common with Billy Elliot, though the PG rating and Phiona’s set of challenges take a different angle (and there are significantly fewer songs by the Jam in this one).  I am ridiculously susceptible to crying at inspirational speeches, and David Oyelowo has more than his share.  Damnit, dude.

Phiona (and Madina Nalwanga in her first film role?!??!) in particular is a wonderful character to watch, with a quiet determination tempered with a realistic amount of self-doubt, commitment to duty, and frustration.  We are of course rooting for her the whole time, but the film doesn’t gloss over the limitations that poverty, gender, and geography place on her ability to succeed.  Nakku is also incredibly sympathetic as a mother whose concern is the survival of her family–even if that means settling for a less than ideal future.  As a single mother with no interest in remarrying, Nakku is fucking fierce and a genius at survival.

I want Lupita Nyong’o to adopt me and David Oyelowo to be my life coach.  Or I could just bring them coffee, whatever.

Was this a checkmate for my blog wife or did she enjoy it about as much as a game of chess IRL?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Frances Ha, or: Things That Look Like Mistakes

This month is one of the most fun on the Collab, returning for its third year!  Welcome to Feminist February 3:  The Revenge.

The Film:

Frances Ha

The Premise:

A young woman seeks a place to live and a direction for her life after moving out of her best friend’s apartment.

The Ramble:

In her late 20s, unattached, and easily gliding past responsibilities, Frances is living happily with her bff in Brooklyn and quite content to keep things as they are.  (As a side note, bless people who name their movies after their lead protagonist because it’s the only way I ever remember character names.)

Anyway, you know a change is coming.  After breaking up with her boyfriend when she doesn’t want to move in with him, Frances gets the bombshell that her roommate, Sophie, is buying an amazing apartment in trendy Tribeca.  A struggling dancer with a talent for choreography, Frances couldn’t even afford one square foot in the apartment and must quickly find a new place to live.

A woman sitting on a window ledge passes a cigarette to a woman standing next to her
Friends who smoke together…are broke together?

When she goes on a date with Adam Driver, Frances unknowingly meets her new roommate.  Frances moves in with Adam Driver (whose character name I will never remember) and Benji.  Though AD is basically a walking, talking sex drive and Benji constantly reminds Frances that she’s hopelessly undateable, she gets along well with her roommates.  Benji and Frances bond over music and movie nights, while AD brings ladies back to the apartment and walks around in a towel.

Frances is eager to show off her new place to Sophie, who comes across as overly critical and perhaps a bit jealous.  Throw in the added drama of Frances’ disdain for Sophie’s boyfriend, and it’s clear there are some tensions rising beneath the surface of their friendship.

Two people sitting face a woman standing in front of them, while a third person seated props her face up with her hand
Of course we’re all having a wonderful time and not secretly hating each other!  Why do you ask?

After heading home to Sacramento for the holidays, Frances returns to New York and moves in with one of the dancers in her troupe/I don’t really understand how dance works.  While she pretends nothing is wrong, Frances has actually been cut from the Christmas show and is too proud to accept a secretarial role open at the…dance office?  Again, not something I’ve ever been even remotely interested in.

During a horrible dinner party, Frances learns that Sophie is moving to Japan with her boyfriend.  Impulsively, she decides to spend the weekend in Paris, though absolutely nothing works out while she’s there.

A woman walks along the edge of the Seine River at night, the Eiffel Tower behind her in the distance
On the bright side, doesn’t actually fall into the Seine?

Upon returning to the States, Frances works for her alma mater in Poughkeepsie over the summer as a server during donor events.  Sophie, who met Frances while in college, is attending one of the events with her boyfriend and reveals she is engaged.  Unable to contain her shock, Frances catches Sophie’s attention and the two bond in a dorm room just like the good ol’ days.  When Sophie confesses her reluctance to stay in Japan with her fiancé, Frances jumps on the chance to persuade her to return to NYC.  Will the two be reunited for good or settle for always having Poughkeepsie?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Like Frances herself, this film lends itself to meandering.  Gerwig is great in this and I see some strong parallels to themes and characterizations in Lady Bird.  However, it’s a bit loose and unstructured for me–more of a slice of life film than one with a dramatically unfolding plot.  The relationship between Frances and Sophie is central here and, though strong, is evolving in ways that are bittersweet and uncertain.  It’s rough to see the contrast between their life stages and maturity taking a toll on their friendship.

There is some really excellent, funny dialogue, though.  The entire argument between Frances and her boyfriend surrounding moving in together and adopting hairless cats is great.  I also love the opening scene of the film depicting Frances and Sophie roughhousing in a public park.

My favorite of Frances’ lines is the deceptively simple “I like things that look like mistakes.”  While there are perhaps flaws in this one, the search for direction and challenge of growing yet holding on to close relationships ring true.  Just maybe with a teensy bit more of a structured plot next time.

Would my blog wife let this one crash on the couch or send it packing from her glam apartment?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Feminist February: Paris Is Burning

Feminist February is going out with a bang.  We’re crossing off classics from our movie bucket lists, unintentionally synchronizing our film choices when we’re not even trying, and posting on 2 films for the price of 1.

The Film:

Paris Is Burning

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

This is a classic documentary now, filmed 30ish years ago and giving a mainstream audience the inside story of drag balls in NYC.  Classically for drag queens to dress up in a Vegas showgirl style complete with feathers and sequins, ‘80s balls expanded to many categories giving attendees the chance to strut their stuff in military uniform, business suits, school girls, jockeys, realness…there’s virtually no limit to the number of possibilities.

Our first introduction is through Pepper LaBeija, who considers herself reigning queen of Harlem balls (even though not everyone would agree with this characterization).  In her own words, “I never felt comfortable being poor, and being middle class doesn’t suit me.”  Balls give participants a taste of glamour and fame they otherwise wouldn’t get.  One participant calls it a high that won’t hurt you.

An African-American drag queen wearing a shiny gold dress and elaborate hat poses dramatically in front of a crowd.
I really feel my captions can add nothing of value to this moment.

Another theme that weaves throughout this film is the family found in ball culture—and the houses that pop up and feud with each other.  Many of those interviewed share their stories of being loved but not accepted—or completely rejected by their families.  Each house has a mother who leads the family and takes care of them, while unapologetically calling bullshit.

Feuds between houses means a LOT of shade gets thrown, and really aggressive voguing takes place.  Willi Ninja is an absolute master of voguing—a dance-off involving moves and poses inspired by fashion magazines like Vogue.  His take-down of his opponent revolves around pantomiming applying his own makeup, holding up an invisible mirror, and pretending to apply makeup to his competitor.  If you watch nothing else of this, watch that clip.  Later, Willi ends doing really well for himself, popping up in music videos, modelling, and doing choreography left and right.

A young African-American man with a moustache and oversized sweater leans next to a tree, one hand to his face.

Venus Xtravaganza is a transwoman who participates in balls and desperately wants to earn enough money for sex reassignment surgery.  She works as an escort and seems to enjoy the sweetness of some of her clients.  Devastatingly, however, we find out Venus was later strangled and found 4 days after the fact.  I couldn’t help thinking immediately of the number of transwomen who have already been murdered this year and wonder how much has really changed.

Dorian Corey is one of my favorites—an older and somewhat more cynical drag queen who wanted to be Lena Horne when she was younger.  She wraps things up for us with her aloof realism.  She had so many dreams when she was younger, but eventually aimed lower.  You may want to make a mark on the world when you’re young—but you’ve left a mark if you just get through it.  (This is especially badass if you Google Dorian Corey and the MUMMIFIED body found in her apartment after her death.  WHERE is the Lifetime movie version of this.)

A drag queen sits in a bar, wearing a glittery silver dress and a fur coat.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I wasn’t going to go with 5 b/c I feel that’s almost the equivalent of saying “Casablanca is a really good movie,” but there’s no other option.  This is a fascinating but balanced glimpse into a culture discriminated against by race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.  Even as balls bring them together, they feud and toss insults at each other.  Those interviewed are deeply sympathetic but don’t shy away from their flaws and disagreements.  Some want sex reassignment surgery, while others speculate those who opt for it may regret it later.

There are lines throughout that are incredibly poignant, especially in light of many featured in this film dying quite young.  The subjects of this film are extremely socially aware as well, since most are black, LGBT, and economically disadvantaged in a system that wants to keep it that way.

I don’t think I can review this without at least mentioning that several of the participants felt they were owed money by the filmmakers.

Is this the mother of my blog wife’s house or would she throw some serious shade at it?  Read her review here to find out!

BONUS ROUND:  I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

Since we both watched (and loved) this film over the weekend too, a few words about it.

There’s something slightly Coen brothers-esque about this one–it’s very funny with hints of violence beneath the surface that suddenly bubble up and spiral out of control.  So many bodies pile up for a movie about a depressed woman finding her grandmother’s stolen silverware with the help of a neighbor who overestimates his martial arts skills (Elijah Wood [with a beard and rat tail?!?!?!]).  Though, of course, that’s not what this movie is really about at all.

This film captures how confusing and deeply disturbing it is to be alive, especially if you are seeking either reason or compassion from your fellow humans.  Ruth doesn’t realize how quickly her life can become a (wo)man vs man vs nature struggle, and how easily the lizard part of our brains can take over.  I related so hard to Ruth’s feelings of despair about humanity and the world we live in, and her determination to find meaning in the face of really horrible existential questions.

That being said, it really is very fun to watch and has some great comedic moments.  Melanie Lynskey is perfect in this role–she looks and acts the way a normal human woman would rather than suddenly absorbing assassin skills while wearing 6 inch stilettos (though I’d watch that movie too).  IOU a longer review, IDFAHITWA.

a man in period costume leans over to ask "Would you care to die with me?"
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Amour Fou, or: Romantic Romantics

This week is brought to you by aristocratic dogs, Romantic poetry, and rich people who hate democracy and paying taxes.  Period drama + social commentary?  I’m in.

The Film:

Amour Fou

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A German Romantic poet just wants to find a nice young woman who will agree to die with him.  Not a euphemism.

The Uncondensed Version:

The setting is early 19th century Berlin, and a small group of aristocrats are all abuzz that a famous Romantic poet will soon be in their midst.  This poet is Heinrich von Kleist, melancholy, melodramatic pursuer of love who fancies himself extremely attuned to the emotional states of others.  Or rather, desperate to find a kindred spirit to enter into a murder-suicide pact with him.  Whoa, dude.  You’ve got to start out with some polite small talk first.

a man faces two women in period costume and speaks the words "You think you want to live, but in fact you want to die"
No, Mrs. Vogel, I expect you to DIE.

Heinrich’s ideal partner is his cousin Marie, but she’s not ready to die young for love.  Go figure.

A rather distant second arrives in the form of Henriette, the wife of one of Heinrich’s acquaintances.  Based on my limited experiences with 19th century period dramas, apparently the only form of entertainment was standing around someone’s drawing room while a member of your crowd signs and/or plays the piano.  If this was really what a good time looked like back in the day, no wonder Heinrich wanted to blow his brains out.  (Sorry.  Ish.)  My rather roundabout point here is that Henriette has a nice singing voice and likes Heinrich’s poetry, both of which are qualities he admires immensely.

Meanwhile, with the French Revolution fresh in the minds of German aristocrats, the topic on everyone’s mind is the horror of taxes, democracy, and rights for peasants.  Heinrich is in favor of being free and doomed—no surprise there.

A man and woman walk a slight distance apart in a field surrounded by trees. Both are wearing hats.
Do you think anyone’s noticed that I only have one hat?

After getting to know Henriette for maybe a week or so, Heinrich decides to make his rather unconventional proposal to die with him instead of living with her husband, daughter, and mother.  Henriette rejects him but seems interested in the idea, even though his speech comes complete with unconvincing logic about the nature of love and absence of real love in Henriette’s life.  Because it’s not real love unless you’d kill yourself and/or others…?  Sorry, romantic ballads of the ‘80s, but I’m not buying it.

Rather conveniently for Heinrich, Henriette becomes seriously ill shortly after all of this.  After receiving a total BS diagnosis of a “spiritual ailment,” it’s eventually clear that she has an inoperable tumor that is killing her.  Finally ready to die with Heinrich, Henriette asks if his offer still stands and he changes his goddamn mind because he doesn’t think her motives are pure enough.  For fuck’s sake, dude.

It should be mentioned that Henriette’s husband is quite sweet through all of this.  He basically tells her to leave him for another man if that will make her happy in her last days, and he never stops trying to find a trendy cure in Paris.

a man and woman in period costume are seated together at a table, facing each other
To be fair, it’s pretty easy to look like the sane/normal one when you’re the one who did NOT propose a murder-suicide pact.

You can easily look up the true story if you want to know what happens in the end.  I’ll give you a hint:  it’s not a particularly happy one.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I thought this would be a comedy for some reason…and there is the occasional bleakly funny scenario, but it’s overall a serious, melancholy film.  I like the completely unromantic take on Romanticism and unsentimental period drama this is.  Heinrich was the absolute worst, and I couldn’t help realize this must have been exactly what it was like to talk to me as a teenager.  I do like the Romantics, but it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything even remotely ordinary if they were thinking about love, death, and King Arthur’s court as much as they did in their poetry.

There’s no sense that the filmmakers approve of the romantic determination to live fast, die young.  It’s actually quite pathetic to die so young for love, and it doesn’t feel like it’s truly an act of love to ask that of another person.

It also seems pretty absurd that Heinrich feels he’s taking control of his life by ending it, which is highlighted in a moment when he struggles with a gun that’s out of bullets.  Henriette’s decision to die is based on avoiding a prolonged painful death, but it’s clear from the beginning no one is going to find a peaceful death by slowly sailing off into the mist like it’s LOTR (sorry/not sorry, Christa).  Death is death, and it’s not going to be pretty no matter how it happens.

Happy Feminist February?

Would Christa travel to the countryside with this one under false pretenses or repeatedly back away from serious commitments to it?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Feminist February: The Love Witch

Horror is this blog collab’s bread and butter, but as Christa and I have lamented, horror can be a terribly misogynistic genre.  How refreshing, then, to watch a female-centric horror about witches that has a lot to say about women and power just in time for the 2nd week of our 2nd Feminist February.  Complete with a lovely ’60s aesthetic, medieval pageantry, and harp accompaniment!

The Film:

The Love Witch

The Premise:

A young witch uses magic and sex appeal to find love and happiness in 1960s California.

The Uncondensed Version:

Elaine is a young woman on the way to start over in small-town California after husband Jerry’s mysterious death.  After his death, Elaine was reborn as a witch in a strange occult ritual (at least that’s what I gather).  Now that she has the power of love and sex magic at her disposal, she’s determined to find a man who won’t disappoint her like Jerry.

Once she settles into the new place, she befriends a neighbor, Trish, who takes her to a Victorian tea room.  It’s really bizarre and comes complete with a woman constantly playing the harp, and everything decorated with delicate cream and pastel pinks.  I’ve just really never been a pastel pink kind of girl.

In an elegantly decorated tea room, a woman in a large pink hat sits across from another woman at a table.
Clearly I just haven’t found the right pastel pink floppy hat.

Elaine tells Trish of her sordid past, which has taught her to give men everything they want in order for women to get what they want in turn.  Magic is simply a way to use your will to get what you want, and Elaine seems to have special magic staring powers to influence men.  As Trish (fairly) puts it, it sounds like Elaine has been brainwashed by the patriarchy.

Shortly after, Elaine uses her magic stare to invite herself back to a university professor’s cottage in the woods.  That, and a love potion laced with hallucinogenic herbs.  After sleeping with Elaine, the prof (Wayne) becomes incredibly emotional and obsessed with her, claiming he’s unable to live without her.  As it turns out, not an exaggeration—he dies very soon after, leaving Elaine with a body to bury and evidence to burn.

A woman stands over a cauldron, candles and pentacles covering the space around the cauldron.
It either needs more salt or more hallucinogenic herbs…

Rumors start flying around town around witch murders, casting doubt on the entire witch community.  It should be added that witchcraft is treated as just another religion in this film, with practices that look strange to the outside observer but no less valid than mainstream religions.  This begins to shift as the bodies pile up (spoiler?).

Determined to bounce back, Elaine sets her sights on Trish’s husband when he’s conveniently left alone for the weekend.  Let’s just say this doesn’t end well at all for him.

Meanwhile, the police are investigating Wayne’s suspicious disappearance and all signs point towards Elaine.  Luckily, Elaine still has that magic eye trick up her sleeve, and manages to get a horseback riding date (not a euphemism) with a detective (Griff) instead of a murder charge.  While out together, the pair encounter a group of witches having some sort of medieval pageant, including fake sword fights and songs about unicorns and goblets of joy.  Pretty cringe-y, TBH.  There, Elaine and Griff are bound together in a fake marriage ceremony, finally fulfilling Elaine’s happily ever after fantasy.  At least for the moment…  Believe me when I say the ending gets appropriately dark and gory.

A man and woman stand together in a marriage ceremony, with all members of the wedding party dressed in medieval style.
I personally prefer to see more unicorns in weddings.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The aesthetic is beautiful, and of course I’m all about feminism in films.  One of the biggest challenges in dissecting this one, however, is that none of the characters are particularly likeable.  It’s never overly clear to me whether Elaine believes her own nonsense re: men or, like magic, she’s using these lies to get what she wants.  She’s not as straightforwardly feminist as I expected, caught between wanting to assert her independence and hoping to live out her princess fantasies.  I was really hoping she would have a better relationship with Trish because I’m all about that female solidarity.

Compounding the problem of unlikeable characters is that of one-dimensional acting, which I think is supposed to be part of the tribute to ‘60s films…but sometimes I can’t actually tell either way.

The dialogue gets a bit preachy at times, hitting you over the head with its meaning.  Elaine gets some classic lines (“According to experts, men are fragile and can be crushed if you assert yourself”) along with some truly horrible lines (“I’m the love witch; I’m your ultimate fantasy”).

However, it’s nice to see a film address the complexity of feminist issues surrounding female sexuality in a world where “virgin slut” is an actual insult that can be hurled at women with no one blinking an eye.   I admit I’m still puzzling about this movie, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Would my blog wife marry this one in a fake a ceremony with this one while surrounded by witches or slip it one too many hallucinogenic herbs?  Find out in her review here!