Women Talking

There are some movies that demand your attention. The trailer for Women Talking has that urgency. Not telling too much about the content, all you know is that this is about some great actresses in a bleached-coloured movie, the marketing is perfect. Sadly, once you enter the cinema to view this, you find that this has awards fodder stamped all over it. An important topic watered down by actresses hitting the Oscar clip approach to acting. While the film itself looks incredible and the performances are, as you expect, outstanding, you can’t but help that this is an unsubtle way of grabbing the attention of the voters of awards but unfortunately this has failed to work.

After a series of brutal attacks on the woman of a religious community. Forging a pact, the actions of the men in the community have led to a group of women discussing the options open to them: Do nothing. Stay and Fight or leave. As the women all have different opinions, the discussion becomes heated and emotional. With the men out of the village, they have limited time, grappling with the effects of their actions not only on the men but their own religious beliefs.

Based on the novel by Miriam Toews, who also co-wrote the screenplay, Sarah Polley’s film comes across like a stage adaptation. Most of the action takes place in a barn and has a very wordy script. Unlike The Whale, which itself was based on stage production and kept the limitations of such a show, Polley occasionally takes the action outside to the vast fields and homes surrounding the barn. This gives the opportunity for the characters to be less stifled by a single set and gives the film a much more cinematic feeling to it.

The cinematography is solid but with washed-out colours, giving the impression we are in a different time. This is deceiving, especially when August, the only male allowed to listen to the meeting as he takes the minutes because he is the school teacher and the women cannot write and uses a biro. It isn’t until later in the movie when a truck, blaring out The Monkees’ Daydream believer from an enormous speaker, do we understand that these women are in 2010. Like the Amish community, these are people who are stuck outside of modern technology and who seem to be forever removed from the outside.

The film, however, struggles to feel less like a play in which the actors are given five minutes to shine. Discussions about the brutality of the men towards the women, as important as these scenes should be, are suffocated by allowing long speeches that wouldn’t seem out of place in a theatrical production. The emotions are heightened to prove a point, although the point has already been proven by the subject. What would have been far more interesting is if the women decided to leave, they would sacrifice all their religious beliefs. Instead, there doesn’t really seem to be an argument for doing anything else. The men’s actions are disgusting, in which the women are refused an education but used just to bring up children that they are given to them under force. The shocking nature of their actions would have anyone running to the hills if they had the opportunity. However, we are drawn into discussions and arguments, leading to the women listing the Pros and Cons.

Polley started her career as an actress until turning to direct with her debut, the powerful dementia tale Away From Her, has grown as a filmmaker but here the look of the film seems far more impressive than the content. She can handle important and heavy subject matters but what she should have done here is make the thing more about the actions and less about the actresses.

The cast is very strong with actresses all at the top of their game. Frances McDormand, who co-produced the film, has a brief scene but is one of those actresses that can control the film with just a look. Jessie Buckley, who, if you are regular readers will know I am a fan, is solid as the wife to a very abusive husband and causes most of the arguments, is brash and distant, and delivers another decent performance. Claire Foy, as the woman who wants to stay and fight, is given a role to get her acting chops into and doesn’t shy away from an aggressive attack or emotional shriek. Rooney Mara confidently underplays her role as a woman pregnant by one of the attacks. Ironically, it is Ben Whishaw as the only male in the film who steals it from everyone with a nuanced and quietly spoken role that you feel for.

Women Talking offers so much but sadly fails to deliver. It becomes increasingly repetitive as the women talk themselves around in circles and when you think it’s coming to an end, they seem to take forever to finally follow their decision. A great cast, and a good director but a film that is dull rather than a vessel for discussion.

3 out of 5

Director: Sarah Polley

Starring: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, Sheila McCarthy, Frances McDormand, Kate Hallett, Michelle McLeod, Liv McNeil

Written by: Sarah Polley and (also based on her book) Miriam Toews

Running Time: 104 mins

Cert: 15

Release date: 10th February 2023


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