Women Talking

Where I Watched It: iTunes VOD

English Audio Description Provided By: Deluxe

Narrated By: laura Post

get ready for a man to mansplain women talking. If there wasn’t a more hilarious juxtaposition, it has to be the overwhelmingly large amount of male film critics having opinions about women talking. I could throw in the towel, praise the film outright, call it one of the years best, and move on. It’s a Best Picture nominee, so who would challenge that? It won Adapted Screenplay!

Well, strap in ladies, because this man has some splaining to do.

Women Talking takes place in a religious cult-adjacent community where women are not allowed to know how to read. And sadly, this isn’t a period piece. This does not take place in the 17th century or something. in this small community, there have been some violent acts against women, and as a result, the men of the town have left temporarily to bail out the rapists, and have tasked the women with either choosing to forgive their rapists, or leave. So, this community selects a subsection of their group to have a very frank discussion about whether to leave, whether to forgive, or whether to stay and fight for their home.

It’s this conversation, the actual women talking portion, that carries this film. Sometimes, we talk about whether a film is cinematic in nature, and how to do that. Well, the movie does open up by showing a smidge of that violence, and a little overview of the community. I’m not really sure it needed much more than that.

My recent disappointments with The whale and its limitations had more to do with the presence of Darren Aronofsky, and his exercise in restraint when he could have very well added his typical flourishes, which were mostly missing. Here, Polley doesn’t have a typical expected nature to her style, so sitting back and just letting the script play out, and having the women talk would have been the strongest thing she could do. And, as the writer/director, she had full control over where and how much these women talked.

Despite the amazing cast, ALL of which are awards worthy, and make the strongest case this year for why the Oscars need an Ensemble category, Polley chooses to leave the barn, and her women, more than once. She attempts to further establish this community, and show the women interacting within it. There’s a caretaker character that wanders in and out, suggestively somehow transgender, who is watching the kids. Frances McDormand is basically a cameo. And Ben Whishaw is given too much to do, in a role that needed to be wallpaper. His reactions should have been incredibly minimal, as the only reason he’s there is because he can read and write.

But inside that barn, there are some terrific moments. Well known cast members like Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, and Jesse Buckley all have stand out performances, and little bursts where their characters words smack you across the face. For me, the surprise was Sheila McCarthy, an actress I’m less familiar with, who is given quite a lot to do, and she does it really well. Each one of these women speak in a manner that is polite toward each other, showing a true way to have discourse, as they all seem to know what is at stake. Which is why it’s so damn odd that Polley feels any need to have them wander around the village, or try and establish some kind of relationship between Mara and Whishaw. I could not care a less about Ben Whishaw in this film than I’ve ever cared about a character in my life. I showed up to hear women talk, and every time Polley feels the need to give his character an opinion, it reduces the impact that these women are capable of their own deeds possibly more than they know.

So, yeah, this one fell a little short for me. But I still love great acting in an imperfect film, and this is the best acting ensemble of 2022, hands down. Also, when polley’s script is working, it’s truly on fire, giving these actresses some tremendous dialogue to work with.

Watching this film answered my questions about why it hasn’t performed as well as expected this awards season, and that’s due in large part to distractions, or as I hear from sighted people, the color grading. From my blind perspective, Laura Post’s narration helped a lot with the many characters the film dumps on you almost all at once. It’s a little like 12 Angry men, in that the bulk of your cast is introduced all at once, and starts communicating rather quickly, so learning who is who, and matching their names to voices, while trying to establish what they look like is actually a greater challenge than you may think.

One of my favorite films of 2011 was Mass. If you haven’t seen it, watch it immediately. I had a similar problem with Mass, as it felt the need to try and give us a lead in and lead out to the bulk of the film. It tried to introduce characters that weren’t important, in an effort to make the film more “cinematic”, because the assumption is that a film taking place in one room cannot be cinematic. Well, someone needs to look into films like Ryan Reynolds in Buried then, because that film really doesn’t change at all. And Tom Hardy pretty much just drives a car for the entirety of Locke. So if multiple people in a room isn’t cinematic, how are these single person, one location films?

Mass was strongest in the part when the four main actors were just talking, and conversing back and forth, trying to get all their emotions out. Women Talking is a lot like that, where if we had just locked the women in the barn after the mini-prologue, until their decision was made, we’d have a better film.

So, yeah, this man had a problem with Women Talking. And it was that they didn’t do enough of it.

Final Grade: B+

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