Friday, November 13, 2015

Suffragette Review

Let's talk about the internet's favorite topic; feminism!

I am legitimately afraid to write this review.

This isn't because I feel like my opinions on Suffragette will spark riots in the street and have people burn effigies of me, but because I am talking about a movie where the sole focus is women's rights. And I am a man. Ergo, I am unable to talk about women's rights and feminism in general. Everything I am going to say has to be carefully doctored, edited so it does not offend anyone whatsoever, and conforms exactly to what the internet deems feminism is. Not what it actually is or what normal, rational people believe it is, but what the internet believes it to be. Again, I'm not a scholar in feminist theory, nor am I a woman. I'm simply a man who is giving his opinions of Suffragette, which are inexplicably tied into the basic theory and tenets of feminism.

In any other review, I wouldn't even bat an eye about talking openly about ideas and sentiments that the movie presents me, but because of the time that we live in, that can't be done anymore. Society as a whole is now extremely sensitive about nearly any issue, with feminism being a focal point for arguments and debate about what feminism is, what is and isn't feminist (see the extremely flawed Bechdel Test), and the overwhelming backlash to feminism. Just look up the name Anita Sarkeesian and you'll see what I mean. So for Suffragette, I'm going to be as honest as I can be about the film and its characters, its plot, and any other point. If you are going to vocally disagree with me, please see the movie first. I am talking about just Suffragette here, nothing more, nothing less.

We cool? Good, cause Suffragette is a pretty bad movie.

I'm actually thankful that I've been studying abroad in England when I am, because I've actually spent the past few weeks learning about the Suffragettes, and this movie is a pretty accurate retelling of some key historical events. For those of you unaware of what a suffragette was, it was a women back in the early 20th century in England that campaigned for the right to vote, but instead of being passive with their campaigning, they were very aggressive with it. They defaced property, blew up a Parliament member's house, and tried to be as rowdy as possible in order to force Parliament to give them the right to vote. Civil disobedience at its finest.

The movie is about a fictional Suffragette named Maud, a person with so little a personality besides "I love my son and I hope nothing bad will ever happen to him once I become a Suffragette". She had so little presence that whenever she appeared on screen, I always forgot who she was. No joke, there were three or four times during the movie that she was on screen, and I forgot who she was until a character outright said what he name was. Anyway, she's a suffragette at first by accident, but then she becomes a gung-ho member and she interacts with famous suffragettes, witnesses what they've done, and does nothing to affect the plot.

The only people that do play a part are only there for a few minutes of screen time before being whisked away, never to be seen again. Emily Davison, a suffragette that died from being hit by a horse while promoting women's votes is seen maybe like three times, and Emmeline Pankhurst, the head of the Suffragettes, is literally only on screen for one scene, then disappears into the ether. Emmeline is played by Meryl Streep, and wow her presence in this movie is completely deceiving. The publicity hypes her up so much, but she's on screen for maybe about two minutes, says like five lines, then is quickly shuffled away into a car. I'm sorry, but that was one of the biggest draws of the movie? Seeing Meryl Streep, who is apparently an uber-perfect-super-duper-superstar, say a few phoned in lines with little fanfare when there should be a huge amount of passion behind her lines, then leaves? She had more passion when she was doing Mamma Mia!, and we don't ever speak of that movie. Instead, we get fictional characters reacting to major historical events.

So, everything that's interest about the Suffragettes is told off screen, with the exception of two very key and pivotal showings of civil disobedience. And to be fair, seeing them bomb Lloyd George, one of their supporter's, house, and seeing Emily get hit by a horse are very well done and have a great amount of tension and excitement to them, but everything else is just dull.

We move around London and see grey workhouses, brown houses, and see very little life in the movie. Look, I know London is exactly the jolliest of towns, but it could at least look more interesting and lively than here, where everything feels like its on a set and so tired. I don't feel like I'm in London. I feel like I'm just watching some people mull around sets that are supposed to feel more interesting than they are.

Getting back to the point at hand, Suffragette, as a film, just isn't told well. The camera shakes wildly when any action is happening to the point where I can't tell what's happening. Even when there is no action happening, like when Maud is just sitting down and talking to someone, the camera shifts and squirms like it has a bad itch that it needs to scratch. Normally, I'm fine with a little bit of camera motion, but it's all too noticeable here to the point of irritation.

I constantly have been hearing talks about this movie potentially being an Oscar nominee, but I honestly cannot see it after watching the movie. Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep give average at best performances that don't have any life to them at all. It honestly feels like the actors are letting the script and the source material doing the acting for them instead of giving the audience a connection to what was happening. The very fact that they're fighting for women's rights should be enough to give them a nomination, but it doesn't feel like they're giving the source material its due. This was a fascinating time in British history. It was right before World War I broke out, and this was such a huge point in British society and for women's rights as a whole. Instead, the movie just glosses over everything that's interesting in order to...

Actually, what does this movie want to do anyway? Is it trying to get its message across? Well that would make sense, except for the fact that the Suffragettes weren't always the best role models. Their cause is noble, don't get me wrong, but they weren't exactly the best poster image for  the right to vote. Okay, so is it just trying to present the facts as they are? Well, not really, because we only get Maud's perspective on the issue and no one else's. It's only the Suffragettes who have a say and no one else. So what then? What is the message behind the movie?

Aaaaand, this is where I stopped actually caring about the movie. As soon as I began to ask questions about feminism and what the Suffragettes wanted, the movie didn't want to answer them. To prove my point, here is a live Q&A I asked myself as I saw the film. These are the exact thoughts that went through my head as I analyzed the movie. For your enjoyment, ladies and gentlemen.

What do they want?
Well, they want the right to vote.
So should we support them?
Yes, we should.
But they just bombed one of their supporter's houses, how is that positive?
Well, they had a good reason for it.
Actually, according to the film, it was pretty extreme, even for the Suffragettes.
Okay, but we should still like their cause at least, right?
We should, but they're making it pretty hard to support.
Well, Maud abandons her husband and son for the cause, and her one defining character trait was that she was a mother. Her husband even kicks her out because of her involvement with the Suffragettes.
Oh! Then we should hate him!
Actually, we really shouldn't. People who were related to or knew Suffragettes were also persecuted and even lost their jobs.
But he's a man! He's putting her down! He just wants a wife!
That may be true, but he also wants a good life for his son, who he has to give up for adoption because Maud doesn't have her job and he can't provide for their son by himself.
What a monster!
But Maud quit her job, so of course he couldn't provide for their son alone.
So... do we blame Maud?
How the hell should I know? I'm your thoughts. Figure it out for yourself.

Do you see the train of thought that this movie is taking me on? Questions like these come up and just paint the idea of the Suffragettes as caring only for women's rights and nothing else. So when bad shit happens to their families and loved ones, the movie paints it out the be the men's fault. In some instances, that's true. Maud's boss pretty much forces a preteen girl to have sex with him constantly or else lose her job, so that's deserved. But the movie paints Maud's husband out to be unlikable at times as well, but that just isn't true in the overarching narrative. Hell, there's a scene late in the movie where Helena Bonham Carter is locked in a closet by her husband because if she gets arrested one more time, then she'll be sentenced to jail for two years minimum, and her weak constitution pretty much means that she'll be deader than a door nail if she gets arrested. And again, the movie paints this out as not being a good thing, even though he's doing it because he loves her. So again I ask, what is the message this movie is trying to get across? You can't have a movie about feminism and contradict nearly everything you say about it and have such a confused point about it.

What am I supposed to get from watching this movie, a movie that is clearly trying to make a point about something? If someone can figure it out for me, please do, because I've wracked my brain for hours and the only answer I can think of it "Feminism". Well, what kind of feminism? Liberal feminism? Radical feminism? Post-modern feminism? Be specific Suffragette. 

The sad part is, I was excited to see this movie. I love history, and seeing a movie about a time in history that isn't often covered is incredibly interesting to me. I wanted to see a movie that shared an interesting approach to women's suffrage and would allow me, a man, to become even more interested that I am in this social movement. But after watching Suffragette, I don't know what to think about this.

Suffragette isn't really anything. It has a message, but I'll be damned if I know what it was. It's trying to be Oscar bait by being based on a true historical event, but that's all it really has going for it. Whoo, you made a movie about women's rights and feminism. Go get in line with Frozen, Blue is the Warmest Color, Evita, and nearly all of Meryl Streep's filmography. Unless you have a point that can be understood, portrayed in a riveting and exciting way, or have powerhouse acting performances, then I have little to no interest in seeing you. I'm all for feminism and equality, just not for Suffragette.


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