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Review: 'Women Talking'



Women Talking is an allegorical tale about the plight of women, specifically women who are the victims of sexual abuse.


The story is set in 2010 in an unspecified, fringe community that the women refer to as The Colony. It is a bleak, stark world that seems to exist a hundred years in the past.


In it, women are prisoners in a rural hell in which they are regularly drugged, beaten and raped. Even their four-year-old daughters cannot escape the sadistic evil that prevails.


The women are uneducated, cut off from the outside world and left to fend for themselves. They sense that there may be no escape. Their three options are: to do nothing, stay and fight, or leave, not knowing the consequences they might face.


It’s an ominous decision. Their plan of action is to meet in the hay loft of a barn and try to decide upon a course of action, thus the title Women Talking.


It’s a fitting title for a movie that is all about women talking. It is no surprise that there is initially no consensus among them. The women struggle to grasp their predicament and all the underpinnings that define who they are and what they have become.



It’s a powerful story, reflective of so many women trapped in abusive relationships struggling to find their way out. Women Talking is as serious as contemporary movies get to addressing very real societal problems.


It is a complex issue with no easy solutions. While it would seem that the simplest and most logical choice would be to pack up and leave, even that course of action has its potential dangers and pitfalls. Nothing is as simple as it seems. If anything, Women Talking makes that point.


It’s a lot to think about and talk about. Certainly enough to fill a 1 hour 44 minute hour movie. The only question is whether you can keep the audience aboard.


Your chances of accomplishing that are increased when you have the support of actors like Rooney Mara and Claire Foy as well as the star billing of Frances McDormand, who manages to make only a cameo appearance in the film as an elderly scarred, stoic member of The Colony.



Talent isn’t the issue here. It’s a script that becomes tedious and boring. The conversation is endless, as is this moment seemingly frozen in time.


There is a noticeable scene near the end in which we see dusk setting in over the farmland in the distance. It remains unchanged for at least a half hour of screen time, to the point that it draws attention to itself. Time seems to stand still, and not in a good way.


The essentially one-scene approach to the story—having most of the movie occur within the confines of a hay loft—raises the question of whether Women Talking would have been a better stage production than a movie. Not all stories make great movies. Some work best as live theater productions. Some work best when they are simply novels or short stories.


Some stories should simply never be adapted. Hollywood has tried to make a decent movie out of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby at least five times. They never give up trying.


It’s difficult to pull off a dialog heavy story when you bring it to the big screen. It requires a razor=sharp screenplay that captures the essence of the story without having the audience drown in details. It requires a cast and director up to the task.


It’s difficult, but not impossible to do. Sidney Lumet’s brilliant Twelve Angry Men (1957) is a prime example of the drama that can be created in a closed room and the heated exchange between just a dozen characters.


Women Talking isn’t Twelve Angry Men. It spins its wheels in the muddy mire of exposition without advancing the plot much.




It is perhaps telling that, early on, one of the teenage characters in the film utters the line “This is so, so boring.” She’s not lying.


Women Talking is a murky, colorless succession of shots that weigh us down until the final reel which somehow seems completely unreal and unconvincing, despite being completely logical.


It’s the moment the audience anticipates from the start, but it just doesn’t play. It makes the solution look much too easy and raises the question about whether all the soul searching was ever really necessary in the first place.


While Women Talking earns points for drawing us into a prolonged intellectual discussion about a very serious subject, it fails to take the drama much further than the level of a lenghty high school debate.

 

Women Talking is in theaters now.






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