Binge-r #95: Good Girls + Secret City + Dunkirk
GOOD GIRLS S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
Empowerment isn’t fulfilling, it’s simply a means of survival in Good Girls, an American drama about three women who decide to play the game by their own rules. Swiftly launching into their breakthrough moment of actually going through with a robbery of the local supermarket’s cash room, the series introduces protagonists cornered by circumstances they didn’t know they could influence. Homemaker Beth (Christina Hendricks) is a mother of four who just learnt that not only is her idiot husband cheating on her, but his financial ineptitude have left them with multiple overdrawn mortgages; Ruby (Retta) is a waitress whose daughter’s kidney functions are rapidly failing; Beth’s sister Annie (Mae Whitman) is a minimum wage cashier and single mother facing a custody battle with her ex-husband.
The three leads give earthy, authentic performances – they can be ebullient or despairing, but instinctively pull together as comrades who only have uncomfortable options left to them. With the zippy transitions from one scene to the next, you can get entangled in their initial plot. Suggested by Annie, who has worked at the supermarket long enough to know how to rob it successfully, the heist nets them more money than they expected, and unexpected entanglements, beginning with Annie’s suspicious manager, Boomer (David Hornsby), and quickly escalating to the stolen cash’s true overseer, soft spoken gangster Rio (Manny Montana).
The trio from the Detroit suburbs are breaking bad, but the show isn’t Breaking Bad. The tone struck by creator Jenna Bans (Scandal) veers between blithe satire, gallows humour, and giddy satisfaction, but what it doesn’t do is pause for moody contemplation. The storytelling is brisk, sometimes fuelled by exaggerated camera angles, and it doesn’t tell you what’s significant. There’s a great scene where Ruby, suddenly flush with cash, exits the decrepit public health system to take her daughter to a specialist and the change is so profound for her and her daughter that you see a lifetime of expectations and illusions cross her face. But then a punchline flips the mood and it all surges forward again.
Each episode has at least one juicy about face and it keeps pushing pangs of pleasure up against looming morality. The women don’t suddenly become master criminals – they make mistakes and keep doing so as they try to dig themselves out, and whatever happens they hold onto their ordinary lives, misfortune and all. What’s truly changed is that they realise that doing what’s expected of them no longer works, and the further they step away from that they see how men can flip the switch on their behaviour towards them in untrustworthy and dangerous ways. Good Girls moves fast, but that doesn’t mean it’s shallow.
In Brief: Secret City S1 (Netflix): Unlike many countries outside America, Australia hasn’t mandated local content quotas for Netflix. Hence it has no original Australian series (one, the supernatural mystery Tidelands, is currently in production). Belated consolation comes in the form of this 2016 political thriller, produced by Foxtel. If anything, the two year wait has made a storyline bound by Chinese interference in Australian politics more timely, with a deliberately gutted dead body on a Canberra street launching newspaper journalist Harriet Dunkley (Mindhunter’s Anna Torv) into a conspiracy that takes in the intelligence services and the upper reaches of the government. The plotting is tight and mood ominously urgent, with the show striking a collusive balance between national security and personal connections: Harriet’s key source is Kim (Damon Herriman), a Signals Directorate analyst, transgender woman, and her former husband.
>> Old Show/New Season: The confident second season of Glow is out. The first season of Netflix’s tip-top comic drama set in 1980s Los Angeles is defined by female camaraderie and genuine, uneven characters, and I recommended it in June of last year [full review here].
>> Other Reading: I don’t cover reality shows – a burgeoning genre for streaming services – but I have been fascinated by, and taken pleasure in, Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot. With the second season out I wrote about the program’s emotional and political breadth for The Monthly [full review here].
Dunkirk (Netflix, 2017, 106 minutes): War is a succession of moments – unexpected, destructive, or simply horrifying – in Christopher Nolan’s recreation of the British army’s World War II evacuation from a French seaside town encircled by Hitler’s forces. The English filmmaker strips away the steely excess of his Dark Knight trilogy, eschewing back story or underpinning dialogue to leave you with harried faces and an immersive sense of calamity that springs forth without respite. Folding together different narrative lengths, he cuts between a fleeing soldier (Fionn Whitehead), a civilian boat owner answering the call to rescue stranded troops (Mark Rylance), and a fighter pilot (Tom Hardy, working mostly with his eyes). Anchored by Nolan’s preference for practical effects, the movie reveals a tense intimacy within the oversized scale so that conflict becomes a terribly personal experience and individual shots, such as a spent fighter plane coasting without fuel, have a vivid resonance.
Also New on Netflix: Framed by spare, purposeful direction, Sweet Virginia (2017, 92 minutes) is a modern noir set in America’s Pacific Northwest, starring Jon Bernthal (vulnerable for once), Imogen Poots and Christopher Abbott, that adds tenuous intimacy to the cold twists; Anchorman 2 (2013, 113 minutes) is an antic comedy that can never quite top its daftly glorious 2004 predecessor.
New on SBS On Demand: Before the magnificent 20th Century Women, Mike Mills set out his overlapping style of tactile moments, powerful epiphanies, and history’s vast framing to remake the romantic comedy in Beginners (2010, 100 minutes). Ewan McGregor is the Los Angeles illustrator whose inert life is reshaped by his elderly widowed father (Christopher Plummer) coming out and an entanglement with a French actress (Melanie Laurent).
New on Stan: Mostly ignored upon cinema release, Strangerland (2015, 108 minutes) stars Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes in an obtuse outback thriller coated in red dust, otherworldly menace and history’s crimes; Bad Moms (2016, 101 minutes) doesn’t acknowledge their real issues, but when it lets a trio of wives and mothers – played by Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn – cut loose it is momentarily riotous.
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