Tag Archives: Mia Goth

Girls Are Better Off Dead

Mayday

by Cat McAlpine

Life’s hard for Ana, who is sleeping in her car and doing her best serving under her abusive boss. Although the time and place aren’t specified and don’t matter, the dark and dated dance hall she caters in suggests that Ana’s gloomy life is somewhere in Eastern Europe. But she won’t stay there for long.

An act of violence shakes Ana (Grace Van Patten) from her stupor and in a dreamy mashup of Alice in Wonderland, Sucker Punch, and a hint of Sylvia Plath, Ana escapes her life by crawling through a glowing oven. On the other side, she discovers a ragtag group of girls – brutal and intoxicating Marsha (Mia Goth), hearty Gert (Soko), and sweet Bea (Havana Rose Liu). The girls play at war, picking off men from any side of an unknown eternal conflict to torture and kill. Instead of a magic tree house, they live inside the hull of an old U-Boat. Like coastal sirens, they hop on the airwaves and cry “Mayday,” leading men into storms and uncertain territory.

Nervous at the thought of killing, Ana warns, “I’ve never been in a war.”

“You’ve been in a war your whole life, you just don’t know it,” replies Marsha.

Writer/Director Karen Cinorre creates a beautiful and increasingly dark dreamscape for Ana to explore her trauma, but the dialogue is heavy-handed while the plot stays meandering and loose. The result is a contemplative romp through female rage, painted like a grim fairytale that isn’t quite sure where it’s going.

Aesthetically, the film is fantastic, and it is anchored by strong performances. Van Patten is enjoyable to watch as Ana comes into her own. Goth is terrifying and power-hungry, a believable cult leader. But Cinorre’s fever dream burns on too long and gets too caught up in its own rules of make-believe, casting off metaphor and leaving it for dead. War is a childlike fantasy playscape for the girls who feel powerless otherwise. But are they all dead? Is this a shared hallucination? Some of the players are characters from Ana’s own life while others are strangers.

One scene implies that Ana has gunned down a whole camp of men, but it shows her doing a choreographed dance with them instead. Is this an illusion inside of an illusion? Mayday doesn’t stand up to questioning, which suits the fantastical film just fine most of the time.

Ana must discover what measure of hope and rage suits her. Marsha is all rage. Bea all hope. And Gert doesn’t want to talk about it. As soon as Ana takes to killing men, she starts seeing all the ones who were kind to her before. And though their fairytale island is littered with ill-suited husbands and would-be rapists, Ana still struggles to condemn the whole kingdom of men.

Ultimately, Mayday is a fine telling of how to find our rage and how to tend to our sadness without letting go of the good the world still has to offer.

M&A

Emma

by Cat McAlpine

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition…had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

So begins Jane Austen’s final novel, and so too starts Emma., with text across the screen that almost seems to smirk. We find Emma as she is described: beautiful, put together, and just mischievous enough. She is also vain, childish, and compulsive in a way that mysteriously endears you to her. Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch, Thoroughbreds) delivers a masterful performance that is always on the verge of a laugh or a tear, depending on which way the day goes.

Well matched in chemistry and in his ability to show an astonishing depth beneath the veneer of decorum is Johnny Flynn as George Knightley. I have loved Flynn since Lovesick was titled Scrotal Recall (yes, really), and his performance in Emma. is earnest and authentic as always.

The character growth, across the cast but most importantly for Emma and Knightley, is masterfully done by both and makes this one of my most favorite period pieces. There are no nonsensical professions of love, you can see every spark light and burn – even in the slightest nods and prolonged bits of eye contact. Josh O’Connor so well telegraphs his nervous and misplaced intentions as Mr. Elton, that it’s even funnier that Emma is in the dark ’til the end.

Supporting the hilarious, heartfelt journey is a cast of wild and weird characters with impeccable timing, namely Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse, Mia Goth as Harriet Smith, and Miranda Hart as the unfathomably lovable Miss Bates. In fact, it is the background of Emma.’s tapestry that makes the story so vibrant. So rarely do the wealthy find themselves truly alone, and director Autumn de Wilde capitalizes on the presence of society members and household staff alike—often out of focus but still on screen—to mine even more comedic opportunities.

In her first full length feature, de Wilde deftly uses the camera to double down on subtext and deepen the most important moments. Her use of camera emphasizes the screen as its own type of narration and honors the story’s origin as a novel. Eleanor Catton’s debut screenplay expertly weaves the multitude of characters and circumstances. Neither de Wilde nor Catton is afraid to slow down and strike a vignette, but the pacing is only occasionally labored, as the gorgeous cinematography and costume design alike provide plenty to gawk at.

Finally, I would be remiss to leave out the score, which has its own humor and cagey attitude to support the litany of other masterful elements. The entire production has a beautiful, rhythmic choreography to which all things, movement, people, and intentions, inevitably adhere.

I often both benefit and suffer from being sporadically read. As George Knightly muses, “Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old.” Me too, bud. I’ve never read Emma, or seen an adaptation, so I can’t tell you how well this holds up to the source material. Based on the reactions of the mostly middle-aged female audience in my showing, it holds up marvelously. Based on my own viewing, this is a charming, funny, and soon-to-be-classic viewing experience for anyone.