Saturday, March 03, 2018

Family Values

I am doing a lot of catch-up with Oscar nominees this week, having seen both I, Tonya and Get Out, and was struck by the formidable and ultimately destructive role played by family matriarchs in both.

I can totally see why Allison Janney has been nominated for best supporting actress for her scenery-chewing turn as LaVona Harding in I, Tonya. She is both hilariously foul-mouthed and painfully abusive in the role and LaVona's insistence that she is doing it for her daughter's own good shows her lack of self-awareness. It's one of the reasons the film works as well as it does, though I share concerns others have raised that it lets the younger Harding off the hook for her own behaviour. LaVona, rejected by her husband, turns her gaze on her young daughter and continues to undermine her into adulthood, a powerful statement about life patterns.

The mother in Get Out--or rather the onscreen mother in Get Out--is played by the redoubtable Catherine Keener who does her best with this slippery, hypnotic character. The key offscreen character is also a mother: the protagonist Chris's mother who was killed in a car crash and never came home to tuck little Chris in that night. This loss dogs him throughout the film and I wondered if it was meant to emphasise his lack of relationships with women and the distrust he carries.

Or is it the filmmaker Jordan Peele's mistrust? There is not one woman in the film who is helpful or trustworthy. What does that say about the film's underlying politics? I found Keener's part rather underwritten, although I think she should have been nominated. But the character I really wanted to know more about was Georgina, the family maid who it turns out is carrying *spoiler alert the brain of the family matriarch inside her and, it is intimated, was seduced by Rose, the girlfriend of Chris. Wow! Betty Gabriel is sensational in this small but important role and I wish we had seen more of her. We never even learn her character's real name, as the film makes clear the zombified characters are given new names when they are rebrained, a not so subtle allusion to slavery.

The female characters in Get Out seem that much more remote and othered than the male characters. It's a pity. I would love to see a Get Out prequel that explained "Georgina"'s back story, as she ends up as the nameless queer black woman nobody ever gets to know before she is despatched.

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