Sunday, February 11, 2018

Best of 2017 Introduction, and Didn’t Make the List: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Hi guys! So it was a pretty good year for movies. Unlike previous years, where my list had lots of idiosyncratic choices, my list is mostly Oscar nominees this year. I don’t know if this means that I’m changing or the Oscars are, but I suspect it’s the latter. My top two probably wouldn’t have been nominees in previous years.

As usual, I’ll mention the movies I haven’t seen first: The Darkest HourIt, Atomic Blonde, Logan Lucky, MotherDownsizing, and others I’m not thinking of.

How we’re going to do it this year is first we’re going to talk about four movies that didn’t make the list (one today, three tomorrow), then I’ll talk about five runners-up (for three days), then I’ll do my top five (with maybe a couple of days on #1). So let’s start with:
Didn’t Make the List: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There’s a lot to like about this movie, especially Frances McDormand’s fierce and funny performance, but boy oh boy did it fall apart. Here are three problems:

Moral murkiness: People have been saying that this is a prescient “MeToo” movie, but is it? Going in, I only knew that this was a movie about a righteous mother who was upset that the police had made no arrests in the rape and murder of her daughter. Based on that, I assumed that this was going to be the case where everybody knew a rich man’s son did it, but the cops wouldn’t arrest him for political reasons. Instead it was a very different movie, where it quickly became clear that a good cop had really exhausted every angle of the case and just came up short.

This is in some ways a braver choice, but it means that the movie actually feels more emblematic of the MeToo backlash: A woman is so upset about a rape that (according to one conversation in the movie) she wants to throw civil rights and due process out the window and now she’s lashing out at her own allies and hurting her own cause! Not surprisingly, this is a movie written by a man.

Not the way the world works: There’s nothing inherently wrong with wading into morally murky territory like that, but it’s a tricky line to walk, and this movie drunkenly veers all over it. McDormand’s character starts off with the notion that this police department is too scared to make arrests, but soon she’s taking advantage of that to a ludicrous degree. The first hint is when she viciously hurts the dentist and the police let her go, but then she firebombs the police station and the cops don’t care! (A cop later confirms that they knew she did it, as of course they would.)  That’s not the way the world works. Not to mention that one of the cops engages in an assault so egregious that it’s crazy he doesn’t get arrested, even in a corrupt town. It’s ludicrously over the top.

The Sorkin Stammer: But this is what I most dislike about the movie. The movie is in some ways critical of McDormand’s self-righteousness, but at other times it indulges it to an annoying degree, pitting her against stammering straw men in a way that’s supposed to make us stand up and cheer but just made me roll my eyes. Nothing is worse that her denunciation of the priest, who just sits there sputtering, letting her score all the points. Here’s the thing about priests: they love to be denounced. That’s their comfort zone. They’ve trained their whole lives for that.  I didn’t buy it.  Always avoid the Sorkin stammer.

Tomorrow: Three acclaimed sci-fi movies


James Kennedy said...

> Here’s the thing about priests: they love to be denounced. That’s their comfort zone.
> They’ve trained their whole lives for that.

Can you expand on this surprising claim?

Anonymous said...

Not writing as a priest but a former Evangelical, most of the conversations one has with people from outside of the faith are them throwing around imagined gotchas about the worldview and/or the organization and most of the conversations with other believers (including sermons) are about how to think about and respond to those attacks. You go into every fight with a full quiver of responses and justifications. In this case, it's a Catholic priest being gotcha-ed about the church's decades-long sexual abuse scandals and acting like it's the first time he's been challenged about it. No way this would be a surprising attack that he wasn't prepared to respond to.

James Kennedy said...

@Anonymous Oh I get it now. Thanks! I was just disoriented by the way Matt phrased it, that priests "love to be denounced." Regardless of training or preparation for the moment, I doubt anyone "loves" it.

Anonymous said...

Good point. FWIW, when I was in that environment I certainly felt like we were expected to take joy (of a sort) in being denounced. It was an excitexc opportunity to either witness/preach to the unbeliever or just show the resiliency of one's faith in the face of a challenge.

Anonymous said...

At the moment, I wish I could exorcise the demons in my phone keyboard.

Matt Bird said...

Thank you, Anonymous. Yes, that's my experience.

Unknown said...

Yeah, that scene could have been cut and it would've made no difference to the film.