By Joan Amenn
Rarely, if ever, has a single year contained more film releases that focused on women’s issues and concerns. From epic adventures to ensemble dramas to historical biopics, 2022 offered many opportunities for women’s voices to be heard. Personally, there were some that resonated deeply and still leave me thinking about them even now. Before we delve into a whole new year of films that could highlight more women’s issues and voices, let’s look back as some 2022 films that deserve to be recognized.
I can’t think of another film that has an ensemble cast of women discussing issues that directly impact them on a generational level like “Women Talking.” Domestic violence, rape, intimidation, and even healthcare are all on the table for these women who band together to face an uncertain future within their secluded religious community. One performance completely broke me and I don’t think enough has been said about it. Sheila McCarthy as matriarch Greta is simply devastating in her quiet understanding and strength. She and Judith Ivey as fellow leader Agata play women who have seen too much, suffered too much, and have an inner steel core that draw the line on their children and grandchildren going through the same trauma they did. Sarah Polley created a women’s version of “12 Angry Men” (1957) where justice and freedom are the focus of the characters, not in a static way but as a direct gut punch to the viewer.
Why it matters: Beyond the topical relevance of the subject matter, “Women Talking” shows that a women directed, women dominated film can be compelling, deeply moving and yes, even marketable. Bravo to Polley and her ensemble cast. I would almost wish for a sequel just to see what kind of world these remarkable women build for themselves but the film is such a gift just as it is. The buzz around nominations has already begun for “Woman Talking” and I’m looking forward to it winning many awards.
Perhaps it’s inevitable that this film is compared to “All the President’s Men” (1976) but neither Woodward nor Bernstein ever had to contend with arranging for childcare while pursuing a lead. Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan have fantastic chemistry as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodie Kantor, respectively, breaking the story of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault/harassment cases. The latter is especially convincing as a tough city woman who isn’t easily fazed until the details of so many women’s experiences becomes overwhelming. By telling the story of working women reporting on the experiences of women in their workplace, “She Said” is groundbreaking. A special shout out to Andre Braugher as NY Times editor Dean Baquet in an understated performance that crackles with intelligence and awareness.
Why it matters: The aftershocks of the New York case against Weinstein are still being felt as he is set to be sentenced next week in Los Angeles while currently serving a 23 year sentence. This story is far from over and the fact that “She Said” did not fair well at the box office speaks more about its marketing than its relevance. Maria Schrader courageously blazed a trail for future films to continue to explore the #MeToo movement and they will. They certainly will.
Few films of 2022 devastated me as much as “Till” and that is due to the breakout performance of Danielle Deadwyler as a mother facing every parent’s worst nightmare. As a Black woman living in America, Mamie Till-Mobley knew the dangers her son Emmett (Jalyn Hall) faced growing up and could not protect him from them, despite her best efforts. It’s 2023 and not much as changed since she lost her boy over sixty years ago. That’s the real horror and heartbreak of this film and director Chinonye Chukwu’s focus on the maternal relationship and then the activism that carried Mobley through those grim years is just outstanding.
Why it matters: Sadly, today’s news headlines prove the theme that “Till” quietly shows that justice delayed is indeed justice denied. As a society, racial inequality is still very much an issue that we all need to take a stand on. As “Till” also suggests, the movement for justice is also a women’s issue. The fact that the film, and Deadwyler in particular, has been virtually snubbed in the nominations so far is a crime because her breakout performance raises the film from being simply emotional to riveting.
Everything, Everywhere All at Once:
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is a flawed anti-hero and I related to her character so much. As a wife, daughter and mother she is overwhelmed by the impossible expectations she is carrying, many of them of her own making. The emotional weight of her responsibilities has clearly driven her to a breaking point but it is the fraught relationship she has with her daughter that held my attention. Stephanie Hsu deserves a supporting actress award for her incredible portrayal of an adult child who has experienced generational trauma through her mother. Both Yeoh and Hsu convey so much in their interactions with each other. As visually dazzling as the film is, it’s the quieter moments of dialog between them and of course, with Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan that make the most impact.
Why it matters: Women often bear the emotional burden of carrying the responsibilities of their families and this can take a toll. Yeoh represents women of a certain age who are pulled in multiple directions between aging parents and maturing children. The social expectation is for them to be “everything, everywhere all at once.” In any alternate universe this would be a lot, but in our own this film is an entertaining look at the power of self-acceptance and parental love. Not only is it wonderfully affirming for women, it also sends a strong message for the LGBTQ community through Hsu’s performance. The visual effects can be overwhelming but the message at its heart is worth the ride.
Pixar came up with a surprisingly poignant look at adolesence and the power of friendship in this wild and furry tale set in Toronto. As I said in my review, which you can read here “Turning Red” captures the spirit of young girls developing deep bonds and growing in independence. Director Domee Shi creates a colorful world of hopeful possibility for her protagonist to explore but the real story is what is going inside her as she comes to terms with her mother’s expectations and her own identity.
Why It Matters: The issue of puberty is handled in a refreshingly open way as young Mei (Rosalie Chiang) and her mother Ming (Sandra Oh) deal with her need for feminine hygiene products onscreen in a first for a Pixar film (perhaps for any animated film.) This alone makes “Turning Red” a wonderful conversation starter for mothers and their young daughters and Shi is to be applauded for how she frames this interaction. It’s funny, it’s real and it’s about time that we saw a young girl getting her period in a film that is not a cause for horror or trauma for her. Of course, Mei does face the complication of getting rather fuzzy, but she gets by with a little help from her friends. Plus, “Turning Red” marks the first time that a woman has directed a feature film at Pixar, so Shi’s presence and efforts makes an even deeper impact. “Turning Red” is one of my favorite films of this year and I look forward to what Shi comes up with next.