Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Woman Review

"Hey there."
Now, I'm more of a fan of Lucky McKee's work than I would like to admit. May, while feeling utterly amateurish, had a huge amount of charm even if the pacing sometimes moved at a sloth's pace. I also feel the director has a penchant for films that resist the traditional story-arch, as neither May nor The Woman really have anything in terms of the traditional act structure, or at least clumsily so (there's a beginning, a middle, and an end, but what one would think of as a twist to carry to the next act usually... just... feels a bit at odds with traditional structure).

That's not to say that I find this a weakness-- to take things that are this far off the beaten path of tradition and to make it work and still hit the same beats as a traditional film is actually quite awe-inspiring, especially in The Woman.

The flick immediately starts with wilderness. Calm. Serene. Then, our “woman” clumsily stumbles unto the scene, played brilliantly by Pollyanna McIntosh . I cannot stress this enough-- it could not have been easy getting into the mindset of someone as detached from society (and even reality) as her character (“the woman”) plays, but Miss McIntosh plays this character with subtlety where necessary and aggression where appropriate, and even when she's speaking in a clumsy made-up language-- which brings to mind some early literature on primordial man, such as Frankenstein and works by Rousseau-- the character feels utterly believable as a woman torn from the wilderness.

After we are introduced to the woman-- and here, I cannot help but feel this is a wordplay on how macho men will call each other “the man” though this might be accidental-- we are introduced to a suburban family, seemingly normal. We first see Peggy, played by Lauren Ashley Carter , who is the typical detached teenager. She sits by a pool and is quickly hit on by a local, who, upon rejection, mutters “strumpet” as he swims away.

I thought that was delightfully unrealistic. Who says strumpet anymore? But I digress.

"Honey, get me a beer and shut the hell up."
We are then introduced to Peggy's parents, Chris and Belle (played by Sean Bridgers and Angela Bettis respectively). Chris seems normal enough, although there is just something off about him-- within just a few seconds, he feels rude but in a polite way, as if he would ask you to kindly shove a fork up your own eye for his own entertainment, but walk away before you respond, assuming you will concur with his will. Belle seems a bit cartoonish herself, the mousish but doting and loyal wife. Even though something is a bit 'off' about them, they are both immediately likeable and normal. As an audience member, we feel at home with these people. They seem normal.

As we learn, appearances can be deceiving.

Chris finds the Woman bathing topless in the river. In any other movie, this scene would feel exploitative, but as appealing as Pollyanna is, covered in the dirt and grime of her costume, this feels more like a Natural Geographic documentary than porn-- this is probably also due to her very believable and brutish performance.

In all of Lucky's films I've seen thus far, it seems the director brings you in with the normality of the characters, and then at one point just gives up making them seem normal anymore. It's as if everyone in her world is normal only by appearance, and are all closet monsters. So be it. We see this closet monster start to come out when Chris voyeuristically watches the Woman bathing. Here it might be noted that although we are watching a topless lady in a very vulnerable position, it is completely and utterly odd the way he reacts. He is very visibly aroused by the sight of her.

It is at this point that the film starts to break down from normal everyday life and begins to become an allegory. We quickly learn that Chris is a bit of a control freak. To say the least. And also a huge misogynist, to the point where his charming demeanor can no longer make him sympathetic. Drooling over a wild woman here is a metaphor for the way he treats women-- controlling them, breaking them, “civilizing” them to his will, as if that is what it means to be a woman.

The film goes into even darker territory, but to explain too much would be a bit of a spoiler. Suffice to say, his need to “civilize” this wild woman is where the proverbial feces begins to hit the fan.

Up to this point, and even beyond, all of the actors do an alright job of things. There are a few stiff moments, and the overpopulation of women is a bit noticeable-- it would have been nice to see male characters that were, for example, redeemable, which the script seems determined not to have by even making the local teachers female for the most part-- but this makes sense given the context of the film.

After all, it is a film about women. Well... a woman anyway.

"No, you shut up and get me a beer!
And go smash now."
The cinematography, while never really awe-inspiring nor breathtaking, is solid and never gets in the way. The acting, even with the few stiff moments noted above, is always interesting and nuanced, even from the otherwise stiff Angela Bettis. The visuals and makeup effects are actually superb, especially with the titular character, who absolutely looks how she is probably supposed to smell, if we are to take the comments from the characters seriously.

And, as much as the allegory of women empowerment was slightly forced, I actually felt the thought-provoking aspects of the film was more deep than the other films by the same director I have watched. Here, for every “flaw” in the allegory, one could argue that as the point of the allegory in the first place. For example, though the titular character is dangerous and volatile even to other women, one could argue that she is hostile toward any male influence and is only supportive of the female characters who either express disgust with the masculine influence or are too young to have been influenced by it.

There is, needless to say, a lot to think about and a lot that could be said about the film, and it is fun to watch a film that has such sophistication to it that it can be a source of debate, even within one audience member's reactions (I sometimes found myself hating something about the film, only to think about it further and find that even my averse reaction said something interesting about feminism as a topic of discussion).

What kept me from absolutely loving the film, however, was the atrocious soundtrack. And when I say atrocious I mean you probably have friends that can do just as good if not better out of their garage. I'm not belittling the music-- I'm sure in its own context it is interesting enough-- but just its placement in the film. I found it was absolutely jarring to hear something that could only be described as pop alternative acoustic music drumming in my ear in what are otherwise tense moments. For example, when Chris first spies on the woman, we are treated to what sounds like a comedic “love at first sight” sort of tune, and often times the film's choice of music are at such a disparity with the events on screen as to pop one out of the experience completely.

However, even after being popped out by one of those “your boyfriend doesn't treat you right” acoustic ballads making me roll my eyes (I actually believe I might have almost quoted one of the songs...) the film did a good job of pushing me back in, bringing more interesting elements into the story.

The film is not for everyone-- not by a long shot. Its pacing is all over the place-- not much happens for the first 45 minutes besides our woman being brought home and captured by Chris, and then shortly after, complication after complication seems to push us forward. This sounds like it is a mess-- and by all rights it should be-- but the film is so expertly done that this doesn't feel like the yo-yo of pacing that it might sound like.

I honestly felt riveted almost every moment, and I only say 'almost' due to a few odd timing issues and the awful sound scoring.

Overall, like Lucky's film May, I liked this film more than I was expecting. In fact, I like this film a lot more than I liked May. Lucky seems to have ironed out a few of her more annoying quirks, kept her more interesting ones, and plays with archetypes wonderfully here. Some reviews may argue that her characters here are cartoonish and one-dimensional, but I would easily counter that this makes the allegory all the more accessible. We aren't left to question what she is stating, and are free to talk about the implications of feminism brought out by this film.

98% -- only losing the 2% because whoever did the choice for sound scoring should be smacked.

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