AND SOME FREE–ASSOCIATION
By Kelly Sargent
"All my work shares a kind of balance between black comedy and sad and despairing melancholy." — Martin McDonagh, writer and director of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
PAUL AND I went to the movies Saturday night, January 13. Whee!!! I don't think we've been to see a movie in a theater since we did our frenetic, but fun, run-up to the Academy Awards a year ago.
Of those getting the most buzz for their excellence . . .
We chose Three Billboards for our first foray. It's well worth seeing. It grabs you in the first scene, or rather Frances McDormant does, and she never lets you go. Frances as Mildred Hayes is incandescent . . . literally: in the story arc she burns down the police station . . . and figuratively: she's so laser-beam intense that she almost burns a hole in the screen.
Her foil, Sam Rockwell as Jason Dixon, is her equal in disappearing into the character he plays, and it's hard to believe that Sandy Martin, who plays Jason's mother, is anybody else in real life other than his hard-bitten, rattlesnake of a mom.
But . . . here are my complaints. I have a lot of them. Spoiler alert: what I grouse about will give away plot points.
#1 Sheriff Bill Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, looks way too robust to be dying of pancreatic cancer. He's not pallid or sallow; he's not skinny or weak. He looks downright hale and hearty.
#2 He has a decades-younger-than-he-is wife. We can almost buy that, and even that she's quite pretty — but she's an Australian, living in a hick town, married to a paunchy good ole' boy. Really? It's not that she does a bad job with the role exactly, but she either needed a believable American/Missouri accent, or the movie needed to put her Australian-ism into context. If she'd been a local-sounding, young good ole' girl, it would have been tenable. Her presence reminded me that I was watching actors in a movie.
#3 Sheriff Willoughby and his wife have two adorable, five-ish little girls. Okay. But our sheriff-dad swears unabashedly and prolifically in front of and at them. Even given that apparently no one who lives in this town can string together two sentences without multiple profanities and bodily-specific descriptors, it was still hard to swallow that in the process of giving his small daughters instructions for a game, every third word was "god-damn". Maybe writer/director Martin McDonagh thinks it's edgy, but instead it's off-putting and far-fetched.
#4 There's a female news reporter who has three scenes in the movie. In her first appearance she speaks in a fakey, caricature of a Southern accent — ridiculous in the first place since TV newscasters and reporters work hard to have what's known as a General Midwest accent — but then the next two times she turns up, she doesn't have it.
#5 Mildred's ex-husband, Charlie, has taken up with a stunning 19-year-old who is really, really dumb. I can almost buy him having teenage girlfriend, except nobody's that dumb . . . and she's just not a very good actor. Once again, she's Australian, and although she sports a passable American accent, she's not convincing. Maybe being native down-under accounts for her tone-deaf take on the role.
#6 When Mildred pitches her Malotov cocktails into the police station with Jason in it, he unbelievably doesn't hear three huge plate glass windows come crashing down, or see the flames or feel the heat of the conflagration erupting in front of him. C'mon, that's just inconceivable.
#7 When the police station burns to the ground, despite the well-known war against the Ebbing police that Mildred has been waging, the new police chief only questions her for all of about two minutes. It's a police station for heck's sake! Officers would have been on a mission from god to bring the perpetrator to justice, and they would have been all over Mildred, the obvious suspect, like white on rice! Worst mistake of the film.
#8 Jason sustains massive burns, yet he's out of the hospital in a medically impossible short period of time.
I blame the writer and director, Martin McDonagh, for Three Billboards' flaws. He's famous for not letting anyone change of word of his scripts. It isn't a case of not having enough control; he had too much. A little emperor's-new-clothing-ish; he needed someone to tell him when his butt was hanging out.
Nevertheless, I recommend seeing the movie. Frances McDormant and Sam Rockwell deserve all the acting awards they've been receiving. But script-writing and directing awards? Nah.
Paul Bridson and Kelly Sargent
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