Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Sundance ’17: Bitch
is a bit like Gregor Samsa, but more aggressive. One night, the constant
presence of her four bratty kids and the constant absence of her workaholic
husband Bill just makes her snap. In this case, snapping means acting like a
feral dog. Family dysfunction turns barking mad in Marianna Palka’s Bitch, which screens during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
the stray that had been howling in their yard was a portent or perhaps a source
of inspiration. Regardless, one morning Jill just up and disappears, leaving an
unprepared Bill to get the kids off to their respective schools (of course, he
would not know what and where they were). That afternoon, the kids discover
they have a case of good news-bad news on their hands. Their mom has been on
the basement the whole time, but she has been barking, crawling on all fours,
and generally defecating like a canine.
comes at a particularly awkward time for Bill, given his company’s precarious financial
situation. Yet, he is kind of-sort of able to rise to the challenge of corralling
the kids. However, dealing with Jill is a different story. In fact, he and his
in-laws have very different ideas about the proper level of care she should
Bitch is a slippery film to get a
proper grip on. Its status as a midnight selection and a SpectreVision
production will prime cult fans for something more in keeping with scatological
extremity. Then the opening scene and central premise lend themselves to a
traditional feminist interpretation. Nevertheless, it is good old Bill who
emerges as the unlikely hero, who keeps his family together as best he can,
learning not so subtle lessons along the way.
Ritter is indeed terrific as Bill. He is the sort of everyman who lost his way
that Tom Hanks is just too old to play anymore. Whether he is having a primal
scream or reconnecting with his baffled kids, there is always something very
genuine about his performance. Jaime King contrasts and complements him well as
Jill’s sister, who is both a source of support and criticism. Palka herself
definitely goes for broke as Jill. Among the Hellions, Brighton Sharbino stands
out as the eldest pre-teen.
Just with its title, Bitch promises audiences edgy and transgressive subject matter that
it never really delivers. Instead, it offers up an admittedly extreme domestic
drama with surprising emotional heft. It could very well be the most
counter-intuitive film at Sundance, disappointing those most anticipating it,
while sneaking up on leerier viewers. It is a real mixed bag, but Ritter and
King carry it over the finish line. Recommended for the adventurous, but not
too adventurous, Bitch screens again
Tuesday (1/24) in Salt Lake and Friday (1/27) in Park City, as part of this
Labels: Jason Ritter, Sundance '17