Monday 24 August 2020

Lizzie (2020) - Movie Review

This is a cinematic pairing that is so blindingly obvious that it really should have happened before this point. Kristen Stewart and Chloë Sevigny: Both indie darlings, both internationally seasoned, both chaotic queer in presence, both utter joys to see in just about anything (hell, even hindsight gives Stewart’s Bella a certain ironic pleasure). And when paired up for a rather iconic piece of gory American folklore, along with a director who got his feature-length kickstart with backing from Spectrevision… hell yeah, am I excited that this finally got a release over here.

Sevigny’s portrayal of the infamous Lizzie Borden is… complicated. She shows a level of poise and almost-unsettling control that just exudes strength from every pore, which itself is quite a feat given how her character is consistently treated in-universe. And Stewart opposite her as housemaid Bridget, AKA Maggie (because even names were too much ownership for women at this time), manages well with the Irish accent and generates furnace-level sexual tension next to Sevigny.

Then there’s Jamey Sheridan as Lizzie’s father Andrew, who serves as the embodiment of the film’s more pointed statements as far as what (potentially) drove Lizzie to do what she did. It’s hard to properly articulate just how monstrous Andrew is as a character, from his patriarchal overdrive when referring to basically anyone that isn’t himself, to the sexual abuse, to the more general social abuse he inflicts.

It’s through Andrew’s presence within the narrative that the film starts to weave a collection of observations that make Lizzie out to be something of a ticking time bomb. Part of that is down to what she has to deal with from her own family (a notion that makes her connection with Bridget hit that much harder, as shelter against the dickcheese storm), but also because of how her own mental state is shown. This film’s ambitions as a psycho-thriller, rather than dipping into the abstract or even the hallucinatory to make its mark, are a result of simply showing Lizzie as being victim to so many damn heinocities that… well, it’s hard not to feel like there’s a reason why she did what she did.

At least, that’s the theory I’m going with, and it’s here where the film gets a tad muddled. While it definitely sets up a lot of impetus for the 81 whacks we know Lizzie for, it also doesn’t make a definitive statement as to what exactly pushed her to do it. Was it out of defence of her lover? Was it out of defence of herself? Was it just the final straw on top of likely years of mistreatment and misanthropy? In keeping with its depiction of the court case that followed (where they admit in-film that there aren’t that many records of what exactly was said), it pulls back from saying outright what happened. It simply presents possibilities, the bulk of which lead to a single conclusion.

As a result of this, and this feels especially weird to have as a reaction, but the romance between Lizzie and Bridget winds up being more compelling than anything to do with murder. Sure, the murders do show a lot of literal and figurative naked truth that adds a certain dark feminine dimension to all this (it manages to be sensationalist but not exploitative, a balancing act that shouldn’t even be possible), but the point where all the condescension and bigotry and just plain dickishness that Lizzie cops ends up becoming poignant is as fuel for that relationship. The two of them being able to take comfort in each other, and pretty much only each other, is quite impactful and even makes the conclusion that much more bittersweet.

It's more than a little odd to see a film like this that almost wants to misdirect the audience, as if it’s building to some big bombshell about who really committed the murders… and then play the whole thing straight anyway. I get the feeling that this didn’t quite make the statement it planned to make, something driven home by how the conclusion ends up revealing a certain upper-class privilege that sours things a bit. I mean, maybe the relationship is meant to be the focal point, in which case well bloody done because I genuinely think this is worth watching for that alone. I won’t make any declarations as to historical accuracy with this, but even though the main story left me a bit cold, I got exactly what I wanted out of it anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment