★★☆☆☆ – Heralding an intriguing and exciting concept, it’s disappointing that Bitch fails to deliver on its potential.
Marianna Palka’s role as writer, star, and director in a film about a woman’s breaking point is admirable. Featuring as Jill, driven suicidal by her ignorant husband and suburban expectations, our protagonist soon cracks under the pressure of being a subservient housewife. Her philandering husband Bill (Jason Ritter) cares only for himself, her children screech and demand incessantly, and an awkward soundtrack of off-kilter percussion emphasises her lack of control over her life.
The only option left for her is to become a dog. Trapped in her basement covered in faeces, Palka does her best impression of an aggressive, well, bitch – fighting back against a system that demands perfection and deference at all times.
The idea sounds like a golden one to me at least; a true feminist take on the family dynamic and a word so often thrown around as an insult. What happens if women take that back, become the very thing we are branded as when we don’t meet expectation?
But instead of an empowering take on the freedom in Jill’s new persona, I felt repelled. The sheer absurdism of the rest of the narrative pushed me away from the central ideas that held so much promise. Palka seems as if she got caught up seeing just how weird she could make the film rather than conveying the message the film started out exploring.
Ritter does well in his role, but jeez, is he annoying. The children are equally as frustrating, and it soon becomes clear why Jill checked out of this awful existence. What really seemed confusing however, was her sister (Jaime King) stepping in to help – instead of addressing Jill’s absence by fixing these problems that have brought about her break in sanity, she steps right in as the housewife buying shopping and aiding Bill whenever possible. Whilst probably making a point in itself on the expectations of women, it was just a bit bizarre since her character was initially seen as a free artist.
Nothing in the film really adds up. Everything serves to alienate the audience and cause discomfort, and the ending is just as ridiculous as the sequences that lead up to it. Maybe we should all become canine and feel the freedom of our animal natures, or maybe corporate lives drive everyone insane in the end. I’m not really sure.
In any case, Palka’s dog scenes were very well acted, in the sense I did feel genuinely uncomfortable watching her transform into this aggressive part-woman-part-animal. The shots were intense and close, and her vocalisations were pretty disturbing. In my opinion, a film exploring her break down more slowly, perhaps watching as these dog characteristics start to show themselves in daily life, would have been more interesting and coherent.
However – I’m not a filmmaker, and this wasn’t a badly made film. Bitch is strange in a way that makes you work to keep up with what its trying to say, and can lose an audience in the process. It does have redeeming qualities in its choice of actors and presentation of mentality, but not enough to save it from its dissociative narrative.
Bitch screened as part of Sundance London 2017’s schedule 1st – 4th June.
This article was originally posted to The National Student.