Overview: A troubled housewife finally snaps and shows everyone what a bitch really looks like. Company X; 2017; Not Rated; 93 minutes.
Holy Shit: Writer/Director/Star Marianna Palka has no time to waste with her latest black dramedy, Bitch. She comes out swinging from the first moment and never, ever stops. Palka is Jill Hart, wife to a pathetic, cheating husband, mother to four rambunctious extra-curriculared kids, and she is tired of her thankless existence. Just as we meet her, she attempts to end her own life. Jill needs help, and she’s all but begging for it as she desperately grabs her husband on his way to work and hisses through her teeth “I’m scared I’m going to do something.” “You just haven’t had a good night’s sleep,” he says, “let me get you some pills so you can sleep.” He’s too obtuse and selfish to see that she already has tried something, as evidenced by the broken chandelier on the floor and his belt around her neck. It takes time for things to get this bad and we see that Jill hasn’t just lost her mind out of the blue. She knows her husband is cheating on her as she juggles the lives of all of her children trapped in the palace of their home. She requests a two-week retreat so she can get back to painting but is summarily shut down with “who will take care of the kids?” She has tried, and now she’s at the end of her rope.
The Obvious: In junior high I was known as “the girl who has ‘bitch’ stamped on her forehead.” At such a tender age this was mostly due to my refusal to date anybody who asked. But I’ve been a bitch my whole life as a matter of survival, and these days with the free-flowing shitriver of the internet, it’s even more necessary. Women who stand up for themselves or display any manner of assertiveness are used to being called bitches. It’s to be expected. Palka takes this idea and bludgeons the nail on the head transforming Jill into a literal bitch—taking her clothes off, pissing and shitting on the floor and guarding the basement as her own territory. This isn’t light symbolism. After receiving no help or relief, Jill snaps and fully believes that she’s a dog. As an insane escape from her life, Jill covers her body in excrement and snarls and barks at anyone who comes too close. At the risk of being insensitive, it makes the film an extremely cathartic watch. In fact, there’s so much feminine energy wrapped into this film I wanted to stand up and yell, “HAHA YEAH SHE’LL SHOW YOU A BITCH! Get ’em, Jill!”
It’s immediately apparent that Bill cannot handle even one chaotic morning in the house without her. He doesn’t know where his children go to school, how kindergarten lunches work, never mind the complex planning and taxiing that goes into their extra-curricular activities. He’s a tornado of stupid helplessness, one of the most pathetic men onscreen, almost to the point of not being able to change. Most importantly, he is so self-centered that he calls Jill the selfish one, hanging out in the basement taking a break from her responsibilities. He refuses professional psychiatric care even though it’s what Jill desperately needs. He wants a prescription, not the social stigma of a mental facility. Instead, he brings her sister Beth (Jaime King) to take care of the kids while he tries to float his job and save face. Everything is happening to him, and he takes no responsibility for his part in anything. He’s so pathetic he’s almost past the point of deserving empathy. Almost.
I Feel Like I Can’t Breathe: The film uses sound to its greatest effect when Jill’s mind is bending. A constant barking dog, irritating, repetitive sounds, a jazz cacophony all of these illustrate what’s happening to Jill and mirror the noise in her own head. Palka plays this role with a unique savagery, embodying her wildness and screaming it from her eyes. She is genuinely terrifying but still evokes empathy and understanding compassion the entire time. Though her physical and mental transformation is the most obvious, the story is less about what’s happening to her and more about how it affects and changes the people around her.
The children in this film are a delight, full of comedic relief and varying responses to what’s happening inside of their home. Sometimes they’re inappropriate, laughing at their mother’s situation or taking full advantage of their newfound freedom just like kids are wont to do. Tiffany, the eldest daughter, tries in vain to hold onto some semblance of sanity as the home falls apart around her. Brighton Sharbino is excellent in this role, confronting her father’s neglectful behaviour and standing out from the others with her subtlety and self-awareness.
Finally: Beth is the one who is finally able to call Bill out for his contributing behaviour to Jill’s condition. She yells the truth at him because Jill is unable to. Having spent some time in her sister’s place, Beth understands the thanklessness of Jill’s life and she actively does more to help her than anybody else. This culminates in an uncomfortable removal from the home, leaving Bill alone with the kids, with no job and plenty of time to face himself and take responsibility. The softness of your heart will determine how you feel about the feel-good final act, one that’s going to be a little too touching for some. Bill only faces his lacking when he loses his identity—his income and his job but Jill lost her identity long ago, retreating to a primal form in order to survive. Both she and Bill will have to overcome great barriers in their lives, almost losing everything, in order to reconnect and set things right.
Overall: Bitch is a completely enjoyable tongue-in-cheek feminist satire that borders on uncomfortable but somehow never makes light of mental illness. Marianna Palka is a true triple threat, writing, directing, and starring in this film that’s sure to fire you up.
Featured Image: Company X