Women Talking (2022) – A Roundtable of Reviews

Year: 2022

Runtime: 104 minutes

Director: Sarah Polley

Writer: Sarah Polley (Based on Women Talking by Miriam Toews)

Starring: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Ben Whislaw, Frances McDormand

We at In Their Own League have had the pleasure of veiwing Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” (2022) at Film Festivals across both America and Europe. A bold and visceral discussion on women’s rights and toxic masculinity, it is likely to be a big awards contender. Rather than nominate a reviewer to cover the film, we at The League have instead decided to follow the film’s example of diverse voices. Below are multiple reviews from the various contributors to the site who have had the chance to see “Women Talking” and revel in its power.

Sarah Manvel says:

“Women Talking” is about a brief window of opportunity women have to truly be themselves. Their ultra-conservative Mennonite culture does not often allow this – in their community girls are forbidden education, and one elderly woman states she has never asked any man for so much as opening a curtain – so they seize it with both hands. But this opportunity has come after acts of great horror, and they must decide how they will react to that horror, both for themselves and for their children. It is literally life-changing, as they move from creatures acted upon into people taking control of their own destiny.

What lingers is the mood which director Sarah Polley and her actresses (including Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley) have created. Life has shown these women little kindness and no respect, except from each other, but they are all determined to follow their consciences and do the proper thing. If only they could agree what the proper thing is. This self-assertion is something their culture has gone to great trouble to suppress. But the culture has not succeeded. They know they are important, and their decisions matter, that they have only this one chance and must not waste it. It’s a quietly ferocious film that lingers much longer than its actual running time.

Rosa Parra says:

Sarah Polley‘s “Women Talking” left me speechless. I admire the exploration of these women discussing their options as a series of sexual attacks have forced them to have these conversations. They can stay and fight, forgive or leave. I’m aware the film is adapted from the source material, but I can’t help but wonder why these women have to be pushed to the verge of the cliff. Why do they have to contemplate the notion of leaving the community and their homes instead of men changing or receiving a harsher punishment? But I digress. It was powerful to see these women lay out their viewpoints and witness some perspectives slightly change as the conversation played out. The dialogue is thoughtfully delivered, but most importantly smart. Regardless of the stance these characters stand on, the story does an excellent job of providing context which allows for a better understanding without judgment.

The acting is phenomenal throughout and the dynamic between these characters makes this entire story believable, relatable, and empathetic. Claire Foy delivers an unforgettable speech about her young daughter’s experience that downright broke me. I had to pause the film to calm down and compose myself. Jessie Buckley is also another stand-out in this excellent ensemble. Although the film is dialogue driven and heavy, it’s nicely paced. I’ve had the opportunity to watch the film twice, and its impact remains. It’s rare to view a film about women discussing issues that directly affect them, particularly in this era and in a religious secluded community. Not only are we presented with women who can think for themselves but there’s a male character presence who represents the reality that not all men are the same. “Women Talking” is a thought-provoking look into a few challenges women faced and continue to face today. It is a wise portrayal of multiple ways to approach matters as well as how to deal with them individually.

“It’s a quietly ferocious film that lingers much longer than its actual running time.”

Calum Cooper says:

“Women Talking” is stellarly crafted and crucially timely. A film that recognises the importance of those whose voices are often silenced by patriarchy, and outdated customs, Sarah Polley’s knack for stories on reconfiguration has achieved triumphant new heights.

Hilder Guonadottir’s haunting score complements the muted color scheme, which exudes the fear and uncertainty that underpins the women’s dilemma of stay or go. Yet this is first and foremost an ensemble piece – one in which its characters are united by conviction, but divided in methodology. Any one of these actors could win awards for this film. Individually they are magnificent, but together they are like magic made real.

Most compelling is the film’s acknowledgment of the lack of easy answers in its conflict. Although the forces of antagonism are clear, the means of resistance are not. With this serving as the foundation, Polley’s direction highlights the importance of every woman in this conversation. Every voice matters and every opinion is valid. Even the inclusion of Ben Whislaw’s character feels vital. His role is not to be the regressive “good guy”, but rather an outsider to the collective anguish who comes to understand and show solidarity through the power of empathy. As a representation of the changes that men need to make in the pursuit of equality, his character arc is arguably the most important.

Dazzling performances, impeccable craftsmanship, and measured consideration of its subject matter ensures that “Women Talking” does not set a foot wrong. Powerful, sensitive, and open-minded, it is a phenomenal picture that is more than deserving of its award buzz.

Joan Amenn says:

Arthur Miller wrote “The Crucible” as an allegory reflecting his experience with the Hollywood blacklists of the McCarthy era. “Women Talking” is also an allegory for our times, directed and written by Sarah Polley based on the book by Miriam Toews. To say that this new film matches Miller’s play in its emotional power is not empty hyperbole. The raw anger of Jessie Buckley, the quiet nobility of Rooney Mara, and the seething anguish of Clare Foy, who delivers a monologue for the ages toward the end of the film, will all be talked about a lot now that awards season is here.

However, I would like to call out the performances of Judith Ivey and Sheila McCarthy as the Elders of the ensemble. Both give riveting performances, but McCarthy’s gentle parables and stoic guidance to the group can leave a viewer breathless. I did not expect to be so moved but Ivey and McCarthy remind me of my grandmother and aunts in their warmth, strength and tacit acknowledgment of shared sorrow. Frances McDormand has a cameo that is the flipside of these two ladies in her denial of the group’s mission, opting instead to embrace the status quo. It is not an easy role to make sympathetic, but she pulls it off in her brief screen time. I have to admit, I let out a small cheer when I saw her name in the closing credits as one of the producers.

“Women Talking” can seem to be a little too static and well, verbose, in some scenes, but the collective performances of these women raise the dialog up to a higher level like a Greek tragedy. It is simply one of the best films of the year.

“Women Talking” is out in cinemas December 23rd (USA) and February 10th 2023 (UK)

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