Tag Archives: Mia Goth

New Shows + Movies by Women — October 8, 2021

When I research this feature every week, I end up seeing the scores every movie gets. I try not to look, but they’re just too prominent to ignore. One of this week’s new films is “Mayday”. The allegorical movie about women engaged in a war against men is getting tanked on IMDB. Why?

“Mayday” is getting hammered on its score for being “part white man bad”, a “childish game of misandry”, “misandrist fantasy” and my favorite: a “femalistic flop” because “theyve invented the new version of the atomic bomb, namely the #metoo threat that hangs over each and every man every hour, minute or second of the day”. But don’t worry, “the lead was pretty and on of the other brunets but that was it”. We got some real Eberts on our hands here.

The reason I bring this up is because sometimes a film that gets tanked like this on scoring sites is actually good. It’s not a guarantee, but when I see this kind of review brigading from other men, it’s often because it’s touched on a nerve in an accurate way. I covered this phenomenon in more detail on my review for Sophia Takal’s “Black Christmas” (which just returned to HBO Max in time for the holiday season).

A lot of hidden gems lose their audiences when they go to review sites, see a low score, and figure the movie must not be good. I haven’t seen “Mayday”. I can’t tell you how it is. This article is informational and a lot of the films come out the same day this feature does. What I can tell you is that I’ve been led to a lot of incisive, often-brilliant hidden gems when I see these kinds of reactions tanking a film’s score. Some are just OK, sure, but there are also a lot of very good films that get tanked and lose their audiences simply because they’re feminist. Seeing these kinds of reviews usually puts a movie at the top of my to-watch list.

Please don’t let review averages deter you from watching a film before you look more closely at the reason for their scores. Maybe “Mayday” isn’t your thing – hell, maybe it isn’t my thing – but a lot of films out there will be much better than the score belies.

NEW SERIES

Maid (Netflix)
showrunner Molly Smith Metzler

“Maid” is based on Stephanie Land’s 2019 memoir. It recounts the story of a single mother who leaves an abusive relationship. Alex balances intermittent, underpaid work as a house cleaner with caring for her daughter Maddy.

Showrunner Molly Smith Metzler has written and produced on “Shameless” and written on “Orange is the New Black” and “Casual”.

You can watch “Maid” on Netflix.

NEW MOVIES

Mayday (VOD)
directed by Karen Cinorre

Ana is transported to a world that’s constantly at war. The women here are all soldiers fighting against men, but Ana can’t seem to fit in. Mia Goth and Grace Van Patten star.

This is the first feature from writer-director Karen Cinnore, who started out in set design and costume departments.

See where to rent “Mayday”.

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (MUBI)
directed by Lili Horvat

Marta is a neurosurgeon. She falls in love in a whirlwind romance. She even leaves her career behind in the U.S. to move to Hungary. The only problem is when she meets her partner there, he says he’s never seen her before.

This is the second feature from Hungarian writer-director Lili Horvat after the well-received “The Wednesday Child”.

You can watch “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time” on MUBI.

Stop and Go (VOD)
co-directed by Mallory Everton

Two sisters set out on a road trip to rescue their grandmother from a nursing home where COVID has broken out.

Mallory Everton directs with Stephen Meek. This is her first feature.

See where to rent “Stop and Go”.

The Manor (Amazon)
directed by Axelle Carolyn

Barbara Hershey plays Judith, just moved into a nursing home. She slowly becomes convinced that an inexplicable force is picking off the residents one by one. No one will believe an elderly stroke survivor, though.

Writer-director Axelle Carolyn once wrote on the history of horror movies, and she’s since moved onto directing in series like “American Horror Story”, “Creepshow”, and “The Haunting of Bly Manor”. This is her second feature.

You can watch “The Manor” on Amazon.

Black as Night (Amazon)
directed by Maritte Lee Go

Vampires are preying upon the disenfranchised of New Orleans. A band of friends spends their summer hunting these vampires down.

This is the first feature from Maritte Lee Go, who also directed a segment of “Phobias”.

You can watch “Black as Night” on Amazon.

Bingo Hell (Amazon)
directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero

When their beloved bingo hall is sold to the devil, Lupita and her elderly friends refuse to see it gentrified. With a vengeance.

Director and co-writer Gigi Saul Guerrero is a Mexican-Canadian director who’s helmed films, anthology entries, and series.

You can watch “Bingo Hell” on Amazon.

What Breaks the Ice (VOD)
directed by Rebecca Eskreis

Two girls form a friendship in 1998, as their vision of their place in the world is impacted by the country’s obsession with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When they’re invited to a rave, things go wrong and they have to defend themselves. Will the culture they live in ever believe their side of the story?

This is the first feature from writer-director Rebecca Eskreis. She got her start in production design.

You can rent “What Breaks the Ice” on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, or YouTube.

Queenpins (Paramount+)
co-directed by Gita Pullapilly

Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste star as women who start a coupon fraud scam. Their operation grows faster than they can manage in this crime comedy.

Gita Pullapilly directs with Aron Gaudet as Team A + G. This is their second feature film.

You can watch “Queenpins” on Paramount Plus.

Witch Hunt (VOD)
directed by Elle Callahan

Witches and witchcraft have been made illegal in the United States. It’s up to one girl to ferry two witches to asylum in Mexico.

This is the second feature from writer-director Elle Callahan after 2018’s “Head Count”. She got her start as a sound mixer and editor.

See where to rent “Witch Hunt”.

Spring Blossom (VOD)
directed by Suzanne Lindon

A 16 year-old girl passes a theater one day. Bored with her friends, she engages an older man. She eventually becomes involved with him.

Suzanne Lindon writes, directs, and stars. She began writing the screenplay at 15 and filmed it at 20.

See where to rent “Spring Blossom”.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

Design as an Impudent Storyteller — “Emma.”

“Emma” has been valued and dismissed as an exercise in design. While the film is utterly beautiful, I think there’s a danger in treating it as “just” a well-designed film. Yes, its costume design, set design, hair and make-up are the stuff that many Oscar-winning films could only dream of achieving. Yet the design is constantly telling its own story. The design foreshadows events. It can constrain characters or spill out in ways they can’t. It can completely undermine what they’re communicating, or support a character when no one else will.

Dismissing a film like this as being a light comedy that’s an excuse for design risks just viewing those design elements as pretty. They are pretty, but they’re also mountainous landmarks that tell their own piece of the story. This isn’t just a comedy of manners, it’s also a story of people and relationships that evolve and mature.

It would be very easy to dislike the characters in “Emma”. Most of them are privileged, and our protagonist Emma herself views her role as matchmaker. This involves deception on a scale that can break someone’s heart, sure, but in a classist society heavily based on courtship, a mistake or misjudgment can do much more – it can ruin someone’s financial future. It can be the difference between access to the middle class or being destined for poverty.

Perhaps better than any other element (even the design), “Emma” communicates the stresses and pressures that each character – even despite their own privilege – is straining against. Writer Eleanor Catton deftly conveys what constrains each character even beyond the mores of a society based on class separation and extreme etiquette.

Emma, for instance, feels tied to her father. Her sister married and left, and her own drive to never marry is deeply rooted in a determination to always be there for him. The film opens with her governess leaving – Emma previously matchmade her to a local landowner. She yearns only for a match who never arrives (while denying it), and you can understand how the limits she’s placed upon herself drive her to exorcise her emotions vicariously by matching others up. At the same time, she absolutely abuses her privilege in doing this, seeing none of the potential consequences of the people’s lives she might ruin by doing so.

Mia Goth as Harriet Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse in "Emma."

The film doesn’t take a side in this. Some of what Emma does is ugly and borne of privilege. Some of what Emma does is beautiful and loving. The film is less interested in judging it than it is in showing the evolution in how this impacts other characters who are just as complexly woven.

Director Autumn de Wilde finds opportunity in an area that would limit many other directors. Characters like these, when un-judged, can’t communicate directly with the audience. They can barely overcome social constraints to emotionally communicate with each other. There’s a way of handling that in period films, in the heaving, yearning, melodramatic way of Merchant Ivory productions. And while there’s nothing wrong with that (and Merchant and Ivory certainly took chances to criticize classism and social etiquette), that’s also somewhat antiquated. It wouldn’t feel right for an adaptation like this.

Yet leave these characters completely un-judged and you begin to careen into what critic Izzy Black once termed the “new cinema of excess”. This would include films like “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Spring Breakers”, and Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby”, to name a few. These are films that present wealthy characters who delight in excess and rely on wealth to dismiss the feelings of others. In cinema of excess, other people are just more things to possess, or to admire you as you show your possessions off. When you don’t judge characters who live in this extreme wealth and manipulate other people, you risk becoming cinema of excess – which can have a point, but would also be a pretty wild divergence for a Jane Austen adaptation. “Emma” certainly isn’t that and it’s certainly not what Austen was getting at.

What’s the line between these two extremes, between becoming period melodrama and becoming cinema of excess? If the characters can’t step past a line of repression, restraint, and etiquette to more directly communicate with the audience, but the director still needs to step the story over that line, how do you get there? Quite simply: the design.

The design in “Emma” is a living, breathing thing. It’s constantly guiding the audience through the film. It doesn’t just accentuate the comedy, it often causes it. It subverts the characters even as they admire it. It undermines when it needs to and it gives support when no other element of the story – least of all its characters – will. This isn’t just a film that’s a successful exercise in design (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This is a film that tells a story through the participation of its design. The design isn’t only accentuating or shaping a moment, it’s not only elevating a mood, it’s not only there to elicit emotional reactions. It’s here to tell the story itself. That’s what makes “Emma” so good and so unique.

Josh O'Connor and Tanya Reynolds as Mr. and Mrs. Elton in "Emma."

Through repression, social etiquette, privilege, and classism that’s sometimes at odds with its feminism, the design keeps you level. It navigates you. It guides your eye into perceiving the characters’ emotions better than even they know how, and that’s what makes this film special. Through the design, we gain access to characters who would otherwise be difficult to access. The characters themselves seem at times suppressed or overwhelmed by this design. Even as they command it and show it off, they’re also locked into how it shapes their lives. Yet as the audience, we’re given a complete freedom to access them through it. That is a remarkable achievement, and it becomes an unspoken strength of the film that’s hard to pin down – because design is so often treated as secondary, and not a storyteller itself.

If this all seems a little abstract, consider a storyteller. They’re in front of an audience. They’re very good at telling their story. They have a companion beside them. The companion doesn’t speak, but they do react to the storyteller – and sometimes in ways we don’t expect. They might cast doubt when what the storyteller is saying wouldn’t. They might shake their head. They might look away when the storyteller would seem to command our attention the most. They might become absorbed in details that would otherwise seem not to matter. As the audience, we can’t help but emotionally react to and mirror that companion just as much as the storyteller – especially when they’re often funnier. We can’t help but be guided equally by both, even when they disagree. This is what the design does. It’s a constant Greek chorus. If you’ll allow an awkward but accessible comparison, it’s the impudent R2-D2 to a self-important C-3PO. It complements and contrasts in ways that give us a more accurate understanding than the characters themselves or even the storyteller alone can grasp.

That’s rare, especially in a period film like this. It’s more common in noir or abstract genre films, in stories that can push design boundaries to their edge because there’s already an aspect of unreality to them. The difference is that the closer to our reality it becomes, the less leeway design really has to redirect our understanding of characters and the story as a whole. De Wilde understands that you can do this in a period film in a way that many other directors either don’t understand or wouldn’t risk.

The result is something that does fit the description of a light comedy of manners and errors. It gives you everything you expect from describing it that way, and “Emma” is a refreshing and entertaining escape. Yet let’s not pretend light comedies can’t be some of our most cutting art. “Emma” succeeds where you expect it to succeed. While still housing itself in that mode and genre, it then goes for as much more as it can without breaking the constraints or narrative Austen’s already set forth. It does this while remaining light on its feet, efficient in its storytelling, astounding in its visuals, and consistently funny on many levels without ever having to wear out a joke.

Does it Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film.

1. Does “Emma” have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Emma Woodhouse. Mia Goth plays Harriet Smith. Myra McFadyen plays Mrs. Bates. Gemma Whelan plays Mrs. Weston. Amber Anderson plays Jane Fairfax. Tanya Reynolds plays Augusta Elton. Chloe Pirrie plays Isabella Knightley. There are other women with brief roles.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. Emma and Harriet talk about a great many things, including art, their hopes, their talents, fashion, and other women. Mrs. Bates talks about other women and families, as well as fashion and food. Mrs. Weston, as Emma’s former governess, engages in conversation with Emma about each other.

Given that this is a period comedy of manners and comedy of errors that revolves around relationships, a great deal of the conversation between women is still about men. It doesn’t try to break or upend this, relying on Eleanor Catton’s (very underrated) screenplay, moments that Emma and Harriet have, and the design itself to make more modern or meta points.

I’m not an expert on Jane Austen, or how “Emma” as a novel challenged social, gender, or class roles of its time. Chances are good that some of what this film does goes past me. I look forward to learning more of that, but I’ll keep this section chiefly informational because diving deeper would start to go into mansplaining and analyzing things I just don’t know.

Take everything above from the perspective of a man who’s read Austen, but not in a while, and because of that is taking the film more on its own values than as an adaptation.

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