If you know me you know I love the Oscars. I love Oscar season (hmmm… I haven’t had a fancy dress up party for the Oscars in a while, maybe I should). I got a little busy towards the end of the year last year and missed several of the big Oscar flicks. I’m still really busy (seriously… i’m trying to not think of how much I am drowning in paper grading and paper writing… someone please fucking kill me) but Oscar night is imminent. So I’m at this point where I’m going to have to cram in some flicks in order to be prepared for the ceremony. So in that spirit, last night Stephanie and I went out and saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
So yeah… I love me some Oscars… and this movie… was very Oscar.
Every year leading up to Oscar time I tend to get into a friendly argument with a friend or two (see, that’s why it’s called a friendly argument) about some geeky blockbuster film that they feel has been snubbed by the Oscars because clearly it was the real Best picture because it was totally the “best movie ever” or something. As I hinted at in my review of Black Panther a couple days ago, this year that film was Wonder Woman. The love for Wonder Woman is insane. And I get that. I really liked Wonder Woman. In fact, I think it was one of the most important movies that came out in 2017. It was good. What it wasn’t… was Best Picture. It just wasn’t. And I think a lot of that has to do with people not really understanding what the Oscars are or how they work.
People like to complain that the Oscars are pompous and overrated. That they’re pretentious and self-congratulatory. That they’re out of touch with the people. That the entire ceremony is just a chance for Hollywood to bend itself over blow itself. And they are. They’re supposed to be.
See, the Oscars are supposed to represent the film industry taking stock at their wares for the last year and saying “what is the finest in cinematic achievement for us in the last 365 days. What do we want future generations to point at and say ‘this was the art of filmmaking in 2017?’ What represents our vision of the craft for the day?” And Wonder Woman wasn’t about that. That’s a big reason why Wonder Woman was… well, popular. I think people want to think that the Oscars should be about the fans. What movie meant the most to people? But they’re not. It’s no mistake that most Best Picture winners are movies that comparatively few people have seen. They’re internal awards, given from one artist by the others. They’re not about the message that is demanded by the audience. They’re about the art that is created by the artists. They’re a chance for Hollywood to try and say “we are art.”
And that’s what Three Billboards is.
The best thing I can possibly say about the film is the ending. In fact, it’s the final scene. I usually try to do these reviews without spoilers. But I figure 1) this movie has been out for while, so if you want to see it, you can and 2) much like 10x as many people saw Wonder Woman as saw this movie, I know 1/10 of my regular readers are going to bother with this review. So fuck it.
So anyway, SPOILERS (skip to the END SPOILERS tag if you don’t want to know)…
The ending of this movie is perfect and it is indicative of the entire film. In the last 5 min of the film there’s a question of whether a character is going to murdered. And as soon as it came up, I had this gut reaction of “end the movie now! End it right now! I don’t want to know. I want to be left with questions. And then the movie didn’t stop and I got scared. Suddenly I’m watching and going “fuck, they’re going to ruin this because now I have to watch them go kill this dude.” But no, the movie makes a brilliant choice. One character asks another “so are we going to kill this dude?” and the other character says “I don’t know, we’ll figure it out when we get there” and roll credits!
Because what this movie was about is complexity. It was about questions without answers. It was about not being able to give a tidy ending. It was about never finding resolution. And I wanted it to stay that way.
One of the few negative criticisms I’ve seen about this film is that no one is really likable. Sam Rockwell‘s character in particular is an unapologetic racist. Not the unintentional racists that I frequently argue with in my political posts here. No, this guy is a racist because he WANTS to be. He is decidedly unpleasant. In fact, he is downright despicable. And he is supposed to be. And yet, there are parts of the film that place you in the unpleasant position of having to root for him. And it is uncomfortable. And brilliant.
Frances McDormand‘s protagonist is better, but only by comparison. She is clearly the hero of the film. The very premise of the movie, a woman seeking justice for her raped and murdered daughter (that’s not a spoiler, that the basic tag), positions us to want to root for her. And yet, the script and McDomand’s portrayal do everything they can to make us not like her. It is an amazing character study. Woody Harrelson similarly plays a complex character. One who is deeply flawed and does both good and bad things. The events of the film leave you unable to decide whether he is corageous or awful. The characters are complex. They are certainly not real. In fact the three principle leads are so hyperreal that to think about them for more than two seconds you’d realize that no one could possibly exist in our world that was even remotely as fucked up as any of them are. Frankly, the supporting cast largely has this issue as well. Everyone in this film is problematic. But that is not really a problem. It’s what makes the film work. The point of the movie seems to be to challenge us to feel for a character’s struggle while also not necessarily liking them. It challenges you to not know how to feel. And it succeeds.
And that complexity is what makes the film work. The movie seeks to tackle an impossible social problem. A problem that is very real and that we have no real solution for. And it does not pretend to give us that solution. Instead it forces us to dwell in the knowledge that perhaps there is no solution and that instead we just get to experience the effects of the problem as it exists. Where films like Wonder Woman and Black Panther are meant to give us hope for a better world where perfect superheroes can fight for social justice, Three Billboards shows us that sometimes the fight social justice is fought by flawed and imperfect human beings who have just had the misfortune of being caught in a situation they can barely comprehend and can hardly navigate. And sometimes, the battle may just be unwinnable… but there may be no choice but to fight it anyway. It shows us that hope can be fleeting and that the world may just suck. It tells us that there are no answers.
And that is an artistic statement. It is a statement worth dwelling on. It is a statement worth celebrating. It is a statement that frankly… is not for everyone. But it is a statement that is certainly worth winning a little golden statue or two.
Wonder Woman doesn’t get that statue. It gets a different award. It’s called 800 million dollars.
My only question is, do I root for this or Lady Bird? I really don’t know which I liked better. And I still have to see I, Tonya and Shape of Water (neither of which I think Steph is interested in, so if anyone is interested in being my date for wankerish Oscar movies, let me know).
★★★★¾(4.75 out of 5 stars)