The first quarter of almost any normal year yields very little from the movie watching perspective, at least theatrically. The sprint to screen awards contenders in New York and Los Angeles having ended with the ringing in of the new year, the ensuing months become a sort of protracted sloughing-off of the dead weight of the previous 12 months (or longer). The miscalculated prestige pictures, the reboots without an audience, the movies of potential interest gone sour with excessive tinkering; the low, gray months are when projects too expensive to be thrown away are thrust into the marketplace to gather as much revenue as possible before they die the death of a thousand tweets. Needless to say, there is no normal, not anymore. Or perhaps more accurately, the new normal just isn't. But the constancy of limited cinematic choices, now heightened by so many theaters having been shuttered, remains; there is not a whole lot going on.
Wonder Woman 1984 remains at the top of the domestic box office, despite drastically mixed reviews. It contends with a handful of other studio releases simultaneously available on streaming services, whether premium rental or subscription-based but, frustratingly, theaters are currently the only available venue to see director Paul Greengrass' (United 93, 2006; Captain Phillips, 2013) Tom Hanks-starring adaptation of Paulette Giles' News of the World or Carey Mulligan in Emerald Fennell's up-to-the-minute sexual justice revenge thriller Promising Young Woman. It is yet another indicator of the inflexibility of some of the minds of prominence within the movie industry, or maybe just of the intractability of outmoded habits cemented by formerly easy profits.
Anyway, pickings (and audiences) are unsurprisingly slim out there in the world of would-be insurrection and super-spreader events. But even at home, the streamers seem to have reverted to the industry's accepted early-year modeling — not a whole lot going on. To be fair, this may be due at least in part to the embarrassment of riches with which Netflix was presented at the advent of the plague, having famously prepared a full year's slate of content before the virus started roaming the streets. And it is likely due to the death-spasms of the facist regime so reluctant to leave office, and the repugnant actions of its unthinking white-supremacist base, that I didn't feel like grappling with the likes of Netflix's Pieces of a Woman, which we are told opens with a harrowing, half-hour birth sequence. But maybe, as ever, I just picked the wrong week to quit drinking.
Whether due to proclivity, socio-political climate or dearth of options, I find myself sifting through the remains of the year that has so slowly but quickly just passed.
BRIDGERTON. Having rapidly made our way through The Wilds, I somewhat jokingly suggested to my wife that she might enjoy Netflix's Bridgerton. And so the first week of evenings of 2021 were spent idly taking in what she, having gotten hooked, refers to as a combination of Gossip Girl and Little Women, with more sex. Based on a series of novels by Julia Quinn and shepherded in development by Shonda Rhimes, the eight-episode series details the scuffles and scandals of prominent London families attempting to marry off their eligible children, circa 1813. Lavishly appointed, with gorgeous set-pieces aplenty, Bridgerton recasts the British upper-caste as thoroughly racially integrated (though it fumbles a bit in an unnecessary explanation of that reality) and uses the milieu as an examination of "modern" society as a product of some ugly antiquities, but also subject to change and evolution. It is a slyly transgressive examination of gender roles dressed up as a debutante play and, while not exactly to my usual taste, strikes a number of unexpectedly resonant notes. TVMA. 60M. NETFLIX.
I'M YOUR WOMAN. Also from the tail-end of the year we would all just as soon forget, comes Julia Hart's I'm Your Woman, an atmospheric gangster getaway picture told from the perspective of a woman named Ruth (Rachel Brosnahan) and an infant sent into hiding by the unseen actions of her husband. Like Hart's previous feature Fast Color (2018), I'm Your Woman was co-written with her husband/producer Jordan Horowitz and uses genre to create an alternate reality, delicately examine sex and gender roles within that reality (perhaps as analog for our own), and tell contemplative adventure stories with strongly female-centric perspectives. Where Fast Color (also about escape and overcoming) uses magical realism as a framework, I'm Your Woman harkens back to the goldenrod slow-grime of the 1970s crime movies that invented a genre, complete with disco gunfights and car crashes, while still using those tropes in service of a story about women on the periphery of a violent, disordered, racist, misogynist world with which they must contend without understanding it. R. 120M. AMAZON.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.