Have you ever found yourself seated in a movie theater, eagerly awaiting your show, only to be bombarded with 20-30 minutes of trailers and commercials? Even though the film you’re there to see isn’t a horror film, you sit cringing or covering your eyes, as women are possessed or pursued or tormented by evil. The trailer for the latest horror film, “Smile”, plays before action films and dramas alike. When a friend and I went to see “The Bullet Train”, there were two horror film trailers in the 20 minutes before the film. It felt like an assault.
Fortunately this isn’t the case in most art house cinemas. It’s a relief to be able to relax before the film and not feel like I need to recovery from the adrenalin rush that being frightened induces. And yes, I know that horror films need to get their trailers shown somewhere too–but there should be limits to what’s shown to audiences of films not rated “R”. The “Prey For the Devil” one is particularly agregious as it’s a long trailer and quite menacing.
Speaking of being menaced at the movies…I watched three films at three different theaters that had scenes of women being abused. Director Olivia Wilde has been through the wringer with her film, “Don’t Worry Darling“, receiving a firestorm of negative publicity. Most of it before the film had even been released and little to do with the movie itself. Wilde went on talk shows to try to deflect the negativity and get audiences to go see the film to judge it on it’s own merits.
The production design is brilliant. From wonderful 1950’s style dresses, to the proper glassware to serve the after-work martini, to the fabulous Dita Von Tesse performing burlesque, “Don’t Worry Darling” looks fantastic. Florence Pugh is formidable as Alice. Sadly, the film spends it’s time sending her through the “looking glass” and also squashed against it. This cautionary tale of keeping women in their place, lead by a wonderfully smarmy Chris Pine as Frank, is a showcase for the gilded cage.
The audience quickly realizes that something’s amiss in this planned community. Pugh is a marvel as Alice transitions from lusty wife dutifully preparing meals, becoming a woman trying to uncover a mystery, to the sole witness to a brutal suicide. Before she ends up covered in blood and running for her life, she’s forced to endure some “reorientation”. Not to spoil the story, but when the twist is revealed, the film flies fast and furious. Perhaps hoping that the audience won’t question why none of this makes sense…the film ends with no resolution. Two hours to build a world, but the script didn’t supply us with the reason why or how any of this happened.
Another film with a beautiful talented actress getting put through the ringer is “Blonde“. Ana de Armas does a brilliant job conjoring a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Director Andrew Dominik recreated iconic photos of Monroe and scenes from her movies. Tragically, he based the film on Joyce Carol Oate’s fictionalized novel about Monroe (also called Blonde). The film opens with the child, Norma Jeane, being terrorized by her mother. She’s almost drowned and her mother sets the apartment on fire. None of which is true. There are threesomes that never happened. Abortions that were imagined.
For three hours, “Blonde”, revels in tragedy with scenes of rape, beating and drug use. There are few moments of joy and none of empowerment. Ana de Aramas has the quivering lip and tremulous manner of a trauma victim but she’s not provided an opportunity to portray the talent or wit or intelligence that made Monroe a star. The film instead wallows in her victimhood and paints her as a needy child. It’s a disservice to her memory and I walked out at the 2-hour mark. I couldn’t take another scene showing this bright funny actress having to portray more abuse. What a travesty.
Viola Davis also had to portray sexual victimization and trauma in her recent film. Her role as General Nanisca in “The Woman King” is very nuanced. She’s a strong leader of her army of women warriors, the Agojie. She’s not just the protector of the King of Dahomey, she’s also his trusted ally and advisor. Yet she harbors trauma from her past. She was kidnapped by another African tribe and raped multiple times. The film doesn’t linger on the brutality but the flashbacks and the nightmares Nanisca suffers, attest to internal scars left on her psyche.
Unlike the director of “Blonde”, Gina Prince-Bythewood keeps her film focused on the extraordinary bonds the women of the Agojie must create with each other. They’re an army and are shown in battle fighting in tandem to take down the enemy. “The Woman King” celebrates the strength and power that these women attain and though there’s a lot of violence, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. Frankly, after enduring the debasement of the women in “Don’t Worry Darling” and “Blonde”–the triumph in “The Women King” felt like a soul cleanser.
Moral of the story: I’m going to studio films playing in chain movie theaters a little later to miss some of those trailers. And I’m going to see a few comedies to heal my psyche. Bring on “Bros”!
Drinks With Films Ratings
“Don’t Worry Darling” 2 dry martinis served in full make-up wearing a circle skirt and kitten heels (out of 5) for the Production Design, costumes and performances
“Blonde” an empty glass–watch one of her movies instead, Marilyn Monroe does NOT deserve this disgrace