At the Movies With Josh: Women Talking

I’ve enjoyed writer/director Saray Polley’s work. My favorite piece of hers is the documentary about her life growing up and her mom (you think the mom in the Fabelman’s was wacky!). So I was looking forward to watching this “12 Angry Women.” 

The story involves women in a cult/Mennonite community, that get together in a barn to discuss all the abuse they’ve endured from the men in the village. It’s a terrific cast, that includes Jessie Buckley (Mariche), Claire Foy (Salome), Rooney Mara (Ona), Judith Ivey (Agata), and the one man present, who is documenting the meeting – August (played by Ben Whishaw, in an awkward way that was rather distracting). 

The problem is that this feels like a stage play (it’s actually adapted from a novel), and it’s rather monotonous and boring. The other problem it has is that, as my wife pointed out: “If these women aren’t allowed to go to school and be educated, why do they so intelligently present their arguments? How would they know all the lofty words that they’re using?”

I also had a problem with the women being a bunch of strong characters, it’s hard to buy the fact that they would have put up with that abuse for so long (multiple generations, even). It makes the entire picture feel inauthentic.

It’s hard to figure out why this doesn’t pack the emotional punch that a story about abuse should. Polley doesn’t really help us get into the characters the way we should. While it may be provocative once in a while, it’s often just a big bore. And it’s almost two hours (but feels like four). I think about how last year, when watching people sitting in one room talking about a tragic event – it was so powerful. A movie that made my Top 10, but surprisingly didn’t get much attention at awards shows – Mass. The movie Room (Brie Larson) was one of my favorites eight years ago.

It was also surprising that with such a talented cast, Polley gives us characters that are rather 

wooden (although it’s always a treat to look at Frances McDormand’s face in a few scenes). Sometimes things said are too vague; other times, it feels like they’re spewing exposition. Speaking of spewing, it was the second movie I saw on the same day that had a barfing scene. I just don’t understand why so many movies seem to have one.

Anyway, Rooney Mara has done so many performances I love. Last year in Nightmare Alley (which made my Top 10), she just broke my heart. There’s one scene where she tells Bradley Cooper she’s never been with a man. “At least, not one I agreed to.”

That line still haunts me. Yet none of the lines she said in this are the least bit memorable. It’s the only role I’ve seen Mara in that I haven’t liked.

1 ½ stars out of 5.

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