I’ve been a fan of The Satanic Temple for a few years now after learning about them in the book Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive by Kristen J. Sollee. The Satanic Temple (TST) advocates for religious freedom, as well as other social issues like women’s rights. They use their religious namesake as a counterpoint to the ever-growing permissiveness of Christianity in the United States government. They’re an activist group–not to be confused with the Church of Satan, which is a religious group.
When our elected officials forget that separation of church and state is a thing, The Satanic Temple is there to remind them.
When conservative leaders want to erect a monument of the ten commandments on government property, TST argues that, for the sake of religious equality, they too should be allowed to erect a monument representing their religion–Satan! Well, technically, Baphomet. And while we’re at it, every other religious should have a statue too. If you’re going to break the rules for one, you gotta do it for them all.
As a perpetual sucker for stories about writers, this film had been on my radar. It was all the more intriguing to learn that it was based on a true story by a woman named Lee Israel.
This is the third feature film by Marielle Heller. I’ve seen her first The Diary of a Teenage Girl and her third and latest A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and enjoyed them both. All three of these films offer very interesting and intimate portraits of their characters, but are films that, while I enjoyed and appreciated, probably won’t ever watch again.
Finally seeing this film, I completely understand why Melissa McCarthy was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. She completely disappears into this role in a way I can rarely recall. I watched an interview with Heller where she approached Hanks at a party and got him to read the Mr. Rogers script. I’m sure that played a huge part in securing financing for the film. It makes me wonder if the script was shopped around and then McCarthy got a hold of it. Fox Searchlight has always been the distributors that, in my opinion, take the most creative ‘risks’ with diverse casting/stories, so I truly hope that doesn’t change with the Disney acquisition…
Here’s a trailer, as I won’t be doing a synopsis, but rather just some of my thoughts on the film:
I appreciate this film because we so rarely see leads like Lee Israel–an older, not conventionally attractive woman who has a lot of flaws. She curses, she’s an alcoholic, her apartment is a mess, her finances are a mess. The only bit of her apartment that’s organized is her writing desk and research, which is a nice detail.
She’s a pretty unlikeable character, and she knows that about herself–it’s actually a bit of a plot in the film, as it makes her unappealing as an author who publishers are trying to market and brand. But she acknowledges that she’s not interested in changing, that her work is good and that should be enough, that she is a person who hates people and only loves cats. So damn refreshing. For me this is the classic ‘if she were a man, she’d be praised for knowing what she wants and not taking shit from anyone’ vs the dreaded ‘unlikeable’ label we see thrown at assertive women.
This is the first film I’ve seen where the two leads are both gay, with Israel meeting her friend turned accomplice Jack Hock at a gay bar.
The thing I enjoyed the most about this film (while also finding the most heartbreaking) was that Israel didn’t regret forging letters, and felt that her writing was at its best and she was the most alive while creating them. I loved that she took joy in inhabiting other people–characters–and creating stories around them, researching them and crafting these micro-narratives in their voices. But it’s so, so sad that she hadn’t felt like she had that in her without these external sources. All of her books and writing up til then were biographies–nonfiction, research-driven. I guess this was sort of the first bit of ‘creative’/fiction writing she’d done, as she didn’t think she could do that. Turns out she could, just maybe not with the best intentions.
My first film of 2020–and of the new decade–is possibly already my favorite film of the year. Most importantly, it’s the first film of my 52 Films By Women Challenge (#52FilmsByWomen), which I explained in my previous post. Holy moly did I love Little Women (2019). What a stellar way to kick off all of these new milestones.
Being familiar with the story, I thought I knew what I was getting into. And I suppose that’s where director Greta Gerwig truly outdid herself. Though apparently not enough for a Best Director nomination, bloody Oscars.
Here’s a trailer, as I won’t be doing a synopsis, but rather just some of my thoughts on the film:
Instead of a chronological story (like the book and subsequent adaptations), beginning with the March sisters as young girls and ending as adults, Gerwig opted to jump back and forth, inter-cutting their lives in fresh ways. Because of this, there were some fantastic match cuts and clever transitions throughout the film, as well as a lot of visual storytelling paralleling the character’s growth–how we change and mature regarding some things, but how other things stay exactly the same. This was especially fun to see in the actor’s performances as they shifted their candor, tone, mannerisms, posture, and more. This felt like it must have been one of the most fun films to act in, getting to inhabit a young girl’s imagination, and then having to carry that over into the older versions of said characters. When viewing the PDF of Gerwig’s screenplay, she writes the younger timeline in all red and the older, “present” in black, so it’s fun to scroll through and see those blocks.
Another clever way Gerwig helped distinguish the time skips was with the color palette. Childhood was warm, saturated. It was sunny days and green grass. The four sisters, who each clearly had a color “assigned” to their costuming throughout the film (and Marmee, the mother, whose wardrobe incorporated all four), was consistent, but the vibrancy also dulled with age.
The sequences that took place in adulthood were much more muted, and almost cold. That same contrast was present in the two main locations of the film–the March house, a warm, well-loved (read: worn down) cozy den vs the cold personality-less estate of Laurie’s grandfather.
This was also such a well-composed film, especially having to juggle such a big cast. I kept accidentally getting taken out of the film thinking about how nice a particular shot’s composition was, or how clever the framing was.
Amy, Meg, and Beth
The other three sisters were much better fleshed out in this adaptation, especially Amy. Because Amy starts out as the youngest, I’ve found she often gets permanently pigeonholed as a brat even in adulthood. Her immaturity is treated as a personality trait instead of a factor of her just…being a child. If I was 12 and the youngest of four sisters I’d be asserting myself and seeking attention just as much. This film gives her room to grow, and she does, allowing actor Florence Pugh to deliver the most devastating lines about the experience womanhood has been for much of history.
While Meg and Beth had smaller story arcs, I was still so pleased with their portrayals..their desires, vulnerabilities, and how those things play out for them. I felt that collectively the four sisters represented some very interesting facets of womanhood then and now, because, while it’s obviously a period film, films are always a reflection of when they were made.
I think as a response to the current timeline, Gerwig crafted an amazing ending for this film that reflects 2019 and the plight of women creators perfectly. It was simultaneously a critique and an olive branch to author Louise May Alcott, whose hand had been forced when she wrote the ending of the original novel(s). I think it was also a callout to filmmakers at large, who have long viewed “domestic” or “women’s” stories as lacking the prestige for awards or worthiness to be made/told. To me, it isn’t a coincidence that the one woman to have won best director at the Oscars did so with a war film starring almost all men (Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker). And that’s not to invalidate that film, or its importance. That’s a whole other post.
The ending of Little Women also takes us into a third timeline, giving us an even more adult Jo arguing with her publisher about the events that unfold in her book as they are happening to a younger (but still adult) Jo. It’s also a moment where she’s arguing for her rights as a creative. It’s also worth noting that the final triumph of this film isn’t marriage, but it’s her watching her first published book literally get created on the assembly line. It’s her running her school with the help of her family. It’s her inner and outer coming together, finally being able to live both. I think Alcott herself would appreciate it.
For me, a girl who was a proud ‘tomboy’ who grew up very disdainful of being a girl (boys always did have all the adventures), never really expecting to find love, and working to be a writer, I was always a Jo March. Always. But now I know I am also an Amy, a Beth, and a Meg. Even a Laurie. Because women (people, really) contain multitudes. And I cannot wait to destroy my blu-ray of this when I rewatch it over and over when I need a comforting and familiar story.
Also. The score is the best writing background music I’ve ever had.
Every year I watch a lot of films, and go to the cinema quite often. Last year I saw 49 films that were released in 2019. I saw 126 films total when counting older films and re-watches. Late in 2018, I started making more of a conscious effort to seek out women-directed films. At the theater, I’d go out of my way to see them opening weekend and pick them over wide releases. I always go into a film knowing if it was directed, written, or produced by a woman. But this year I’d like to document it and make it more intentional. That’s where the #52FilmsByWomen comes in.