Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: A BOLO for Justice

Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri

Guest blogger extraordinaire Bill Clark

Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s film, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), takes us along Mildred Hayes’ journey as she deals with the unsolved murder-rape of her teenage daughter. Brilliantly played by Frances McDormand, bereaved mother, Mildred, decides to take on the avuncular police chief Bill Willoughby  (played by Woody Harrelson), after a year of apparent police inattention). She pays for three road-side billboards with provocative Burma Shave-like titles asking for justice from Chief Willoughby.

The billboards trigger a chain of events that sets Mildred at war not only against the Chief Willoughby, but also the citizens of Ebbing who side with him. The drama intensifies as Mildred becomes more and more frustrated in finding justice. She precariously veers into vengeance as she seeks answers for her daughter’s brutal death. [It is difficult not to mention spoilers here!]

The film’s sparkling dialogue lights up the dark corners of Mildred’s psyche, as we can visualize her torment, as well as offers a welcome counterpoint to the underlying suffering of her journey. Three Billboards navigates a mother’s necessary journey toward a place of hope that she doesn’t expect. Three Billboards is definitely a trip worth the price of a ticket, most especially for the astounding Frances McDormand, whose Oscar-worthy performance is favored to win.

The Beguiled–Bewitched and Possessed

 

The Beguiled

In Sophia Coppola’s reinterpretation of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film by the same name, The Beguiled opens with an eleven-year-old girl gathering mushrooms in her straw basket deep in a quiet wood in Virginia. Conjuring an image of Little Red Riding Hood soon coming upon a big bad wolf, we see her discover the wounded John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a Union soldier in the midst of the Civil War. The child decides to take him back to her girls’ boarding school. Headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) is reluctant but feels a moral obligation to tend to him. Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), a teacher locks McBurney in the music room, terrified of what could be a menace to their highly secluded and precarious lifestyle. In a series of lovingly erotic shots of headmistress Martha’s bathing Farrell’s chest, forearms, calves, and neck as she ministers to his injuries, the viewer sees a foreshadowing of what is to come.

Meanwhile, the students—especially the sexually blossoming teenager Alicia (Elle Fanning), huddle by the door, to get at least a brief glimpse of probably the only man to ever visit the boarding school. Aware of McBurney’s sexual drive as well as their own (albeit sometimes subconsciously), each girl except the youngest who is eleven, preens in front of him: with pearl earrings, a formal dress, or bearing small gifts. Miss Martha looks at all of this in horror, but raging hormones are everywhere.

McBurney is a shape-shifter, and his foil are the two adult women: Martha and Edwina. At times respectful or seductive, compassionate or manipulative, sometimes earnest, McBurney manages to be both for each resident.

The Beguiled is just that: hypnotic, mesmerizing, and unsettling. With each scene– fleeting, things unsaid, –there are repressed emotions and dreams, a stultifying code of norms for girls and women. The drama is internal–expressed in the cinematography by the placement of scenes within the boundaries of the boarding school. Perhaps symbolic of the interior life of the female realm where women, confined by their circumstances, can only be independent when the male lies powerless, the viewer sees what happens when women, unaccustomed to this power, react. The mere presence of a man unexpectedly and violently alters their group dynamic.

The pacing for this historical drama is at times slow. However, The Beguiled is worth watching, especially for the originality of Sophia Coppola’s world view. Both Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst infuse humor and intensity into their roles, giving performances that are perfectly interwoven. This is perhaps Colin Farrell’s best performance yet. And Elle Fanning is a wonder, embodying teenage sexuality, giving heat through her languid gestures, evoking a boredom on the verge of explosion.

The Beguiled rages with what lies underneath the surface. This is Sophia Coppola at her very best.

 

Note:  Currently available on Netflix (DVD)

 

Lady Bird– A Girl’s Flight from Home

Lady Bird movie

by Guest Blogger Bill Clark, photographer, mixed media artist, and fellow movie fiend

“Lady Bird” should have another title. For those of us who remember LBJ’s wife, nicknamed Lady Bird, this title confuses a potential audience.]

Greta Gerwig (first-time director and screenwriter,) takes us on the journey of seventeen-year-old Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, brilliantly played by Saoirse Ronan (of Brooklyn fame; see my review of March 1, 2016 ) , as she navigates parent-child dynamics and the social complexities of her Catholic high school upbringing in Sacramento, California. Set in 2002-2003, the film’s warm colors cast a nostalgic look onto Sacramento, described by Lady Bird as the “Midwest of California.” but Gerwig does not let the film drift into a saccharine coming-of-age story.

We quickly witness sharply worded exchanges between Lady Bird and her mother, Marion McPherson, (the superb Laurie Metcalf, Tony award-winning actress for the 2016 Broadway play, “Doll House Part II” and the much older TV sitcom, “Roseanne”). Lady Bird wants to leave and “go where’s there’s culture, someplace like New York or New Hampshire.” So, they spar mercilessly over Lady Bird’s future after high school.

Her mother, tightly wound, overworked and the daughter of an abusive alcoholic mother, can’t let go of her past. Trying to keep her family financially afloat since the father (Tracy Letts, playwright of “August:Osage County” and actor in “Homeland”) lost his job, she tries to lower the bar for Lady Bird’s dreams but her communication is sometimes unintentionally brutal. Lady Bird’s best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein) supports her through the tortuous teenage angst involving sex, popularity and parents.

Gerwig exposes the emotional sinew of an intelligent adolescent woman from a struggling working class family as she heroically wobbles through managing to be true to herself while trying to repair a tattered, tender relationship with her damaged mother.

Based partly upon her own Catholic upbringing in Sacramento, Gerwig has said that she hopes that, after seeing Lady Bird, viewers will call Mom or Dad, brother or sister, daughter or son. I did.