February 24, 2016

Suffragette (2015)

Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter, not Meryl Streep

Let's be honest: this movie was going to have to screw up big time for me not to like it. I am biased toward women's history--especially women's rights--and I'm not going to try to pretend otherwise.

This movie did not disappoint me.

First of all, Carey Mulligan is fantastic. (When is she not?) Despite playing a fictional character in a relatively true story, she makes her somewhat hyperbolic situation feel completely real and visceral. Look, I get why Mulligan's character has every terrible thing happen to her. These things actually happened to women who fought for the right to vote, and no doubt many women experienced many of these horrific abuses. Her character was a vehicle to show these seemingly insurmountable obstacles and the depths of despair many women were driven to in their quest for something most people now take for granted.

Seriously though, who the hell doesn't vote? I don't want to run off on a tangent (as I've been prone to do lately), but it drives me completely batty to watch something this gritty and heartbreaking, knowing so many women completely squander this opportunity women before them literally gave everything for. Literally. Everything. 

Watching their course of civil disobedience and frustration at the system so obviously stacked against them, I couldn't help but again be reminded of the current fervor over civil right and the Black Lives Matter movement. How many times must we repeat these same mistakes in our treatment of people who only want equality? (And yes, I see the irony in commenting about Black Lives Matter in relation to this movie, which received a great deal of backlash in regards to its own lack of diversity. But that's a post for another day.)

Ok, back on topic. I can't believe this movie didn't get more attention. That's not true. I can believe it. But the fact that it was overlooked is a damn shame, because this is the first time I've seen this topic covered and I thought it was more than a little compelling. I mean sure, I like WWII movies as much as the next person, but isn't it refreshing to see something different?

Also refreshing: seeing Helena Bonham Carter in something other than a Tim Burton movie. Almost the entire movie revolves around Mulligan's character, but Bonham Carter gives solid support--unlike Meryl Streep. I know Hollywood is completely in love with her, but the fact that her performance was the one that got talked about when the movie came out is more ridiculous than Judi Dench winning an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. If you were to take a long blink or a couple of sneezes you would miss her cameo entirely. I'm not sure what she was doing in this movie, other than lend her name to the billing. (For real, why is she on the movie poster? I'm not exaggerating about her short screen time.)

What held this movie back from being great was not its melodramatic tone (which I didn't mind), but its unresolved ending. For all the focus paid to Mulligan's character throughout, we are given no resolution to her particular story and instead are just fed printed facts about the progress of the women's suffrage movement. I realize the movement itself is intended to be the star of the movie, but by using Mulligan's character as a vehicle to take us through the struggle, it seems cruel to leave the audience hanging after we've become so invested in her. 

Final word: A compelling historical film about something other than a war.

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