TV Review: The Dropout 1.8 “Lizzy” (dir by Erica Watson)


(Below, you will find spoilers for the final episode of The Dropout.  I would recommend not reading this post until you’ve watched the episode.)

After all the drama and the deception, The Dropout ended the only way that it could, with Theranos in ruins, Sunny out of Elizabeth’s life, and Elizabeth still unable to comprehend why everyone got upset with her in the first place.  While George Schultz tries to come to terms with his mistakes and Erika Cheung worries about whether or not she’s ruined her future career by coming out as a whistleblower, Elizabeth tries to do damage control by forcing Sunny out of Theranos and then going on television for a cringey interview that pretty much seals her fate.  Both David Boies and Linda Tanner (Michaela Watkins, who became the unexpected heart of this episode) tell Elizabeth that it’s important that she come across as being contrite and sincerely “devastated” by Sunny’s actions.  Elizabeth, however, can’t do it.  As she explains to her mother, Elizabeth has been locking away her emotions for so long that she no longer knows how to express or even feel them.

The end of the episode finds Elizabeth finally pursuing the life that she would have led if she hadn’t dropped out of Stanford, started Theranos, and gotten involved with Sunny.  She’s dating a younger man.  She’s going to Burning Man.  She owns a dog.  She’s ditched the turtleneck.  She’s let her hair down.  She’s speaking in her real voice.  She’s going by “Lizzie.”  She’s reverted back to being the somewhat flakey child of privilege that she was at the start of the miniseries.  Even while Linda Tanner confronts her with the number of lives that she and Theranos destroyed, Elizabeth doesn’t break her stride.  Elizabeth has decided that she’s moved on, even if no one else can.  It’s only when she’s alone that she briefly allow her composure to crack, just long enough to scream into the void.

Of course, the final title card informs us that it doesn’t matter how much Elizabeth wants to be Lizzie, the girl who goes to Burning Man with her boyfriend.  Having been convicted of defrauding her investors, Elizabeth Holmes is currently awaiting her sentencing.  She could end up spending the next twenty years in prison.  And, just as Phyllis Gardner predicted in the previous episode, Elizabeth has made it difficult for other female entrepreneurs to find success in Silicon Valley.

As the episode came to a close, with Elizabeth walking through the now empty offices of Theranos with her dog and an increasingly agitated Linda, I found myself thinking about how those offices progressed through the series.  Theranos went from a shabby office building in the worst part of town to being the epitome of Silicon Valley chic.  In the early episodes, the cluttered Theranos offices and labs were disorganized but there was also a very sincere earnestness to them.  Men like Ian Gibbons actually believed in what they were doing.  By the fourth episode, Theranos transformed into a secretive place that was fueled by paranoia.  With each subsequent episode, the offices became a bit less individualistic and bit more joyless.  In the final episode, the offices were dark and deserted, as empty as Elizabeth and Sunny’s promises.  Looking at those offices, it was hard not to mourn the lost idealism of those early days.  Sunny may have never shared that idealism.  The miniseries suggests that Elizabeth lost her idealism as soon as she finally started to get the positive publicity that she craved.  But the people who were there at the beginning believed in Theranos and its stated mission.  Even Elizabeth’s early investors were taking a chance because they thought she could make the world a better place.  In the end, Elizabeth and Sunny betrayed all of them.  As I said at the start of this review, The Dropout ended the only way that it could, with an empty office, a lot of broken hearts, and Elizabeth Holmes convinced that the world had somehow failed her.  Viewers may never fully understand what was going on in Elizabeth Holmes’s mind but they’ll never forget her or the story of Theranos.

The Dropout was a good miniseries, probably the best that we’ll see this year.  This is a miniseries that better be remembered come Emmy time.  Amanda Seyfried seems to be a lock to at least get a nomination.  Naveen Andrews deserves consideration as well.  The supporting cast provides an embarrassment of riches.  Sam Waterston, Dylan Minnette, Kurtwood Smith, Michaela Watkins, William H. Macy, the great Stephen Fry, Camryn Mi-Young Kim, Kate Burton, Anne Archer, and Laurie Metcalf, all of them are award-worthy.  Give them the Emmy campaign that they deserve, Hulu!

Quick Review – Grindhouse (dir. by Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino)


The following was posted on 4/6/2007 from my LiveJournal on Grindhouse (which is celebrating it’s 15th Anniversary). I’ll admit I respect Death Proof a bit more now than I did back then:

Gotta write fast. Have to jump into shower and head for work.

I got into the movie theatre at about 8pm, and spent the hour talking with a pair of film students from the School of Visual Arts. At 9 (an hour before the movie), the rest of the sold out crowd appeared. I was officially 3rd in line. Sweet. 🙂 I didn’t my preferred seat (the single one on the right reserved for patrons coming in with someone in a wheelchair), but did get a seat in the empty row (meaning I could stretch my legs, even better).

The short of it: Grindhouse is paying one low price for 2 bad movies, on purpose. You get 3 great built in trailers, and two mini movies. Between the two mini movies, I loved “Planet Terror” (the Rodriguez one) more than “Death Proof” (The Tarantino film), simply because Death Proof had too much of Tarantino’s conversational style that all of his films have. It’s like you’re listening to a conversation that absolutely doesn’t tie itself to any of the storyline’s major points. It’s just “cool” stuff, but I literally almost fell asleep until Kurt Russell showed up on screen. I think that if one knows to expect this from Tarantino, it comes across better. It’s like watching both Kill Bill volumes back to back. The first one’s cool and action packed, and the second one has some action (the chase scene alone in Death Proof had me wondering how they did that), but is so slow before getting there, you want to sigh.

Being a Charmed Fan, it was great to see Rose McGowan again, and there were so many cameos to laugh at. Fergie has a cameo, and Michael Biehn’s (“Hicks” from Aliens, Navy Seals) even in this. Where did they dig up these guys?

Grindhouse is easily a party film. I’d go see it again in the theatre, but I don’t see myself getting the DVD. It takes you back about a good 30 years, and does that really well. There are missing reels, serious jump cuts in the film and the sound sometimes cuts out. 🙂 In that sense, it’s really beautiful. The audience laughed and applauded, though there were some that at the end were like “Man, that sucked.” In the 60’s and 70’s, Grindhouse movies were pretty bad. I guess it’s like watching one of those old Hammer films, mixed in with a cheap horror flick. You have to walk into this movie not expecting “The Departed” for it to work. Just have fun with what you’re seeing and remember, this is what your parents sometimes saw in the movies (it should be noted that my parents went to something of a Grindhouse once – the movie they went to see was Night of the Living Dead. The other movie that was in the show was John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, which freaked my Dad out).

The music in particular is really great. Robert Rodriguez, Chingon, and a few friends come up with a sound for Planet Terror that’s in essence a John Carpenter like sound. If you have access to the Itunes Music Store, give it a listen (I bought it). Plus, if you’re a fan of some of the older movies out there, you’ll find references to some of Carpenter’s films in there (for example, one of the songs from “Escape from New York” is actually used in the film). The same occurs with the soundtrack from “Creepshow” – The story with the drowned couple. There are also tons of older Tarantino/Rodriguez references in there. One fellow actually yelled out a line, word for word, from what was on screen. It took me a second to realize the line came from “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Sweet.

The in betwen trailers are absolutely fantastic. If I were to get the DVD, it would probably be for this reason alone. You can tell that Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Eli Roth (Hostel) really had fun with their pieces.

So, Grindhouse is worth seeing in theatre at least once with a bunch of friends, but know what you’re walking into. The movie can get gross at times and no young kid should even be brought near to this (we got carded to actually get into the theatre, and a Weinstein Rep. was on hand after the film to let us take surveys). Also before the movies, one of the teaser trailers is for Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”. I haven’t been so excited for a horror film like this since Zack Snyder’s version of “Dawn of the Dead”. This looks really good, and I’m wondering what Michael Myers is going to look like when someone like Tyler Mane (Sabretooth from the first X-Men movie) is playing him. That’s going to be creepy.

TV Review: The Dropout 1.6 “Iron Sisters” (dir by Francesca Gregorini)


This week’s episode of The Dropout opens with Elizabeth Holmes staring at a camera. 

She’s got the black turtleneck on.  She’s speaking in the voice.  She’s doing the un-blinking stare.  She’s a bit awkward whenever she has to talk to anyone but that awkwardness now feels much more calculated than it did when we first met her.  Offscreen, we hear the voice of famed documentarian Errol Morris telling her which camera to look at.  Elizabeth tells Morris that she’s a huge fan of his work.  Though we don’t see Morris’s reaction, he certainly sounds thrilled by the compliment.  Of course, those of us who have been watching The Dropout from the start and who have also watched Alex Gibney’s documentary about Holmes, can guess what it probably the truth.  In all probability, Elizabeth Holmes had never seen any of Errol Morris’s documentaries.  For the most part, Elizabeth Holmes doesn’t appear to have had many interests beyond maintaining her carefully constructed public persona.  When Errol Morris makes mention of friends, a look of confusion crosses Elizabeth’s face.  Friendship is something that can only be shared between real people and, at this point, there’s nothing real about Elizabeth Holmes.

Friendship is a recurring theme throughout the sixth episode of The Dropout.  In fact, the episode returns so frequently to the theme that, for all of the show’s strengths, it actually runs the risk of getting a bit heavy-handed.  George and Charlotte Schultz are busy preparing Elizabeth’s 30th birthday party and they ask Elizabeth who they should invite.  They ask her who her friends are.  Elizabeth laughs and replies that the Schultzes are her friends.  The Schultzes laugh it off but to Elizabeth, her relationship with the Schultzes and the other members of the Board are really the only thing that she has.  For her, friendship is all about the validation of being praised by older, powerful people and, as this episode shows, men like George Schultz had a need to feel as if they were supporting her “good” work and ensuring that their final legacy will be a positive one.  Mix that with the stubborn refusal to admit to one’s mistake when one is old, wealthy, and well-connected and the end result is the type of environment that’s perfect for someone like Elizabeth Holmes.  

Indeed, the only vaguely real relationship that Elizabeth has is with Sunny and that relationship is one that she insists on keeping a secret.  (Though Charlotte instinctively understands what’s going on with Elizabeth and Sunny, George is clueless and complains, to Elizabeth, that Sunny just doesn’t have enough class.  In this case, George is right.)  In this episode, we see a bit more of Elizabeth and Sunny’s life together.  Sunny is resentful and manipulative.  Elizabeth needs him because she needs someone to actually be the bad boss while she’s busy shooting commercials and hanging out with the board of directors.  They enable each other, with Elizabeth almost using Sunny’s amorality as a shield from having to deal with the consequences of her own behavior.  If Elizabeth seems to be in deep denial about the extent of her fraud, Sunny seems to be convinced that he will always be able to outsmart anyone who tries to uncover the truth.  (Of course, as the show has repeatedly demonstrated, Sunny isn’t really that smart.)

Meanwhile, over the course of the episode, a much more unlikely friendship develops between Richard Fuisz, Phyllis Gardner, and Rochelle Gibbons.  All three of them are linked by a common desire to see Elizabeth revealed as a fraud.  Richard feels that Elizabeth treated him disrespectfully, Phyllis is offended by Elizabeth’s faux feminism, and Rochelle saw first-hand how Elizabeth and Sunny drove her husband to suicide.  Throughout the episode, the three of them try to get a Wall Street Journal reporter interested in the story but they struggle to find concrete evidence of Elizabeth’s fraud.  William H. Macy, Kate Burton, and especially Laurie Metcalf brought some much-needed moral clarity to last night’s episode.  In the past, I’ve complained that, as played by William H. Macy, Richard was almost too cartoonish to be believed but, as of last night’s episode, I stand corrected.  Richard is just as socially clueless as Elizabeth but, unlike Elizabeth, he has no idea how to use that to his advantage.  Instead of being cartoonish, Macy’s performance is instead a perfect counterpoint to Amanda Seyfried’s more tightly controlled performance as Elizabeth.

And finally, the episode’s most important friendship was the friendship between two new Theranos employees, Tyler Schultz (Dylan Minette) and Erika Cheung (Camryn Mi-Young Kim).  Erika began the episode in awe of Elizabeth, just to discover that Theranos was faking results and that the Edison was just a repurposed Siemen machine. Tyler and Erika took on the role of whistleblowers, just to discover that no one — especially not Tyler’s grandfather, George — had any interest in listening.  In the end, they both ended up losing the jobs.  That’s not a big deal for Tyler, who is a scion of the establishment.  For Erika, an idealist who shared much in common with the pre-Theranos Elizabeth Holmes, it’s very much a big deal.  As this episode makes clear, people will look the other way if it means being able to pay the rent and put food on the table.  It takes true bravery to do the right thing when you actually need the job, as Erika does.  Erika does the right thing and asks the right question and ends up by escorting out of Theranos by security guards.

There was a lot going on in this week’s episode but, ultimately, what I’ll always remember was Elizabeth’s birthday party, which featured the elderly members of the American establishment all wearing expressionless Elizabeth Holmes masks.  It was a sight of almost Cronenbergian horror.  Things only got more awkward as Elizabeth and George demanded that Tyler sing a song that he had written in honor of her birthday.  Of course, by this point, Tyler knew that Elizabeth was a fraud and Elizabeth knew that Tyler knew.  It was truly a moment of supreme cringiness but also one that apparently actually happened.  

The episode ends as it began, with Elizabeth Holmes staring straight at a camera and announcing that Theranos is the future.  #IronSisters!

 

TV Review: The Dropout 1.5 “Flower of Life” (dir by Francesca Gregorini)


Who was Elizabeth Holmes?

Was she an idealist who got in over her head and ended up cutting corners with the best of intentions?

Was she a con artist who simply lied for the money?

Was she the abused and manipulated partner in a crime that masterminded by Sunny Balwani?

Or was she a sociopath who was simply incapable of feeling any empathy for the people that she manipulated and, in some cases, destroyed?

That’s the question that’s been at the heart of the first five episodes of The Dropout.  It’s also a question that the show’s version of Elizabeth Holmes (played, brilliantly, by Amanda Seyfried) is struggling with.  One gets the feeling that she herself doesn’t full understand what’s going on inside of her head.  For the first half of the episode 5, Holmes is an almost sympathetic character.  Still desperate for Sunny’s approval and seemingly convinced that Theranos can come up with some magic spell that will actually make the Edison work, Elizabeth comes across as being more self-delusional than malicious.  For the first half of the episode, it’s like we’re watching the socially awkward but earnest Elizabeth who we first met at the beginning of the series.  At her uncle’s funeral, she asks her mother if she ever had any hobbies when she was younger and her mom can only list several competitive activities that Elizabeth took part in.  But, as becomes clear, Elizabeth never did anything just for fun or just for enjoyment.  Instead, everything the she’s always done has been a part of an obsessive need to not only prove her own abilities but to also prove that she’s superior to other people.

Perhaps this strange mix of a grandiose self-image and gnawing insecurity is why she simply cannot bring herself to settle the lawsuit that’s been brought against her by Richard Fuisz (William H. Macy).  Instead, with the help of her newest mentor, George Shultz (Sam Waterston), Elizabeth brings in David Boies (Kurtwood Smith).  Boies is one of the leading lawyers in the United States.  Before getting involved with Theranos, Boies tried to put Al Gore in the White House.  After his involvement with Theranos, Boies tried to keep Harvey Weinstein out of jail.  Boies failed on both accounts but he was far more successful when it came to battling Fuisz’s lawsuit.  One of the key scenes in the episode comes when Schultz mentions that he and Boies are on different sides politically but that they’re willing to come together to protect Theranos.  It doesn’t matter that Schultz is a Republican and Boies is a Democrat.  What matters is that they’re both a member of the elite and Theranos, with its prestigious board of directors, is now a part of the elite as well.  Richard Fuisz, with his terrible haircut and his excitable manner, is far too gauche to be allowed to defeat Theranos.

Indeed, Elizabeth spends most of this episode worrying about the lawsuit and also what might happen if Ian Gibbons (Stephen Fry) is called to testify.  Gibbons’s name is on all of Theranos’s patents, along with Elizabeth’s.  Gibbons is perhaps the one person who can testify that Elizabeth had nothing to do with designing any of Theranos’s equipment.  When we first see Theranos’s legal team pressuring Ian to sign a statement saying that, as an alcoholic, he can’t testify, we’re left to wonder whether the team is working at the direction of Sunny, Boies, or Elizabeth.  When Ian points out that signing such a statement will end his career, no one seems to care.  Ian Gibbons goes home, plays with his dogs, listens to his favorite opera, says goodnight to his wife, and then kills himself.

Elizabeth’s reaction to Ian’s death tells us all we need to know about her and it pretty much erases whatever sympathy we may have had for her.  She’s a bit like a robot, trying to generate the “right” emotions but not quite sure the proper way to do it.  When told that Ian is dead and that the lawsuit is apparently dead as well, Elizabeth focuses on the finger puppets that she wants to stock in the Theranos Wellness Centers.  The puppets are for children to wear after getting their finger pricked but they’re also a part of Elizabeth’s fantasy world, a world where Theranos will be fine and she’ll be as famous and beloved as Steve Jobs.  And if that means that the Edison had to be built with technology with Sunny stole from another company, so be it.

The episode ends with Brendan (Bashir Salahuddin) quitting the company and George Schultz’s nephew, Tyler (Dylan Minnette), starting his first day.  Using her fake voice, Elizabeth gives a speech to her cult-like employees.  She talks about her uncle’s death and how it effected her and we know that it’s all a lie but Elizabeth sells it.  The only disconcerting note comes from Sunny, who can’t stop himself from casually threatening to fire anyone who doesn’t share Elizabeth’s version.  They’re a team.  Elizabeth knows how to sell Theranos.  Sunny knows how to terrify anyone who asks too many questions.

This was the first episode of the series to not be directed by Michael Showalter.  Instead, it was directed by Francesca Gregorini and there are a few scenes where you really do miss Showalter’s ability to balance the absurd with the dramatic.  That said, this episode worked due to the performances of not only Seyfriend and Naveen Andrews but also William H. Macy, Kurtwood Smith, and especially Stephen Fry.  Fry especially broke my heart, even though I knew enough about the real story of Theranos that I already knew that Gibbons was going to take his own life.  Still, Fry plays the role with such a wounded dignity that you are left with no doubt that Gibbons was the last of the true believers.  He gave his life for Theranos and, in the end, Theranos gave him nothing in return.

The episode ends with Richard calling Phyllis Gardner (Laurie Metcalf), who was last seen telling a very young Elizabeth that there was no way to make the idea behind Theranos a reality.  Phyllis tells Richard that Elizabeth is a fraud.  And I have to admit that, as a viewer who had just spent 50 minutes with Elizabeth Holes and Sunny Balwani and David Boies, it was nice to hear someone come straight out and say it.

Next week, Tyler Schultz starts working at Theranos and he discovers that everything is not as it seems!  It’s the beginning of the end for Theranos and I’m looking forward to watching it all come down.

TV Review: The Dropout 1.4 “Old White Men” (dir by Michael Showalter)


If the first three episodes of Hulu’s The Dropout occasionally seemed as if they might be a bit too sympathetic to Elizabeth Holmes (played, brilliantly so far, by Amanda Seyfried), the fourth episode presented us with Elizabeth in full supervillian mode.

Gone was the socially awkward but well-meaning Elizabeth.  Now speaking with her trademark deep voice, wearing her black turtlenecks, and possessing the wide-eyed stare of someone who rarely blinks, Elizabeth spent the fourth episode conning Walgreens into investing in her worthless blood testing machine.  When she wasn’t manipulating the Walgreens execs, she was coldly firing poor Ian Gibbons (Stephen Fry) and only bringing him back after the rest of the lab team threatened to quit in protest.  Of course, it wasn’t Elizabeth who placed the call to Ian and asked him to return.  It was Sunny (Naveen Andrews) and, when Ian returned, he was taken out of the lab and given a desk job.

Yes, it quickly became obvious that Theranos had changed a lot since the previous episode.  Security was everywhere, befitting a company that claimed to have come up with revolutionary technology.  People in different departments were not allowed to talk to each other.  The earnest and free-wheeling atmosphere had been replaced by a slick but curiously impersonal office.  Even the quote from Yoda now felt out of place.  Yoda would have been fired for asking too many questions.

Of course, the majority of the episode dealt with Elizabeth and Sunny’s attempts to sell their “wellness center” concept to Walgreens.  It was an obvious con but the Walgreens execs eventually fell for it.  One of them, Jay Rosen (Alan Ruck), fell victim to Elizabeth’s flattery and a belief that Elizabeth represented the future.  (In a rather endearing scene, Jay compared Elizabeth to a Katy Perry song.)  Another exec, Wade Miquelon (Josh Pais), initially understood that Theranos’s claims were too good to be true but, ultimately, he set aside his concerns when it appeared that Theranos might make a profitable deal with CVS instead.  Only Kevin Hunter (Rich Sommer) was able to see through Theranos and, ultimately, his concerns were ignored.  Ruck, Pais, and Sommer were all wonderfully cast and they all did a good job of showing how Elizabeth, Sunny, and Theranos were able to con so many people who should have known better.  By the end of the episode, Elizabeth has tricked former Secretary of State George Shultz (Sam Waterston, radiating gravitas as only he can) into joining the Board of Directors.  While the Walgreens corporate leaders performed an endearingly dorky version of What I Like About You, Kevin Hunter curiously looked at the Edison blood testing machine and Elizabeth coldly looked at him.

After being so disappointed with both Inventing Anna and Pam & Tommy, I resolved to be a little bit more cautious when it comes to overpraising the early episodes of The Dropout.  And I do think you could probably make the argument that devoting an entire episode to Walgreens is an example of how a miniseries will occasionally drag a story out and will devote an entire episode to something that could have been handled with just one five-to-ten minute scene.  But, when you’ve got a cast this good and writing this sharp, it almost doesn’t matter.  Director Michael Showalter did a wonderful job of balancing the cringey humor of the Walgreens plotline with the more emotional moments in which Ian Gibbons dealt with his frustrations over the direction in which Sunny and Elizabeth took Theranos.  Even if you don’t already know the details about what ultimately happened to Ian Gibbons, Stephen Fry’s performance will still break you heart.  Fry plays Gibbons as a man who, despite advancing age and poor health, refuses to surrender his idealism.  That makes him a good scientist but also the perfect victim for Elizabeth and Sunny’s syle of manipulation.

Old White Men was a well-done episode, perhaps one of the best that I’ve seen so far this year.  I look forward to seeing where the show takes us next week.

TV Review: The Dropout Episodes 1, 2, and 3 (dir by Michael Showalter)


On Thursday, I binged the first three episodes of Hulu’s The Dropout.

The Dropout is Hulu’s miniseries about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes (played by Amanda Seyfried), the enigmatic Stanford dropout who founded Theranos and became a billionaire before she turned 30. She promised that Theranos would revolutionize both the way that blood was tested and the world of health care in general. She was known for black turtlenecks, her deep (and possibly fake) voice, and her habit of not blinking. Of course, as common sense should have made obvious to just about anyone, it turned out that Elizabeth Holmes was lying about the blood testing machinery that her company was marketing. She and her business partner and former lover, Sunny Balwani (played, in The Dropout, by Lost‘s Naveen Andrews) were eventually charged with defrauding their investors. At trial, Holmes argues that her intentions were good and that she was trapped in an abusive relationship with Balwani. While Balwani’s trial is scheduled to being later this month, Elizabeth had already been convicted and currently await sentencing. Theranos, of course, no longer exists.

After the first three episodes, I would say that I’m cautiously optimistic. Seyfried and Andrews seem to be perfectly cast as Elizabeth and Sunny and the story itself is an interesting one. The miniseries format seems like a good one for director Michael Showalter’s trademark mix of dark comedy and drama. Much as with Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye, there were a few moments that felt a bit too cartoonish, most of which involved William H. Macy as Elizabeth’s former neighbor and eventual business rival but, for the most part, the first three episodes managed to establish and maintain a consistent tone. Before she lowers her voice and dons her black turtleneck, Elizabeth comes across as being socially awkward but likable. It’s only towards the end of the 3rd episode that we really start to see her as being the villainous figure that she eventually began. The first 3 episodes are like an origin story.

Of course, the fact that it took 3 hours to tell her origin story is one reason why I’m cautious in my optimism. Streaming services are currently full of miniseries that all take stories that should be interesting but then drag them out to such a length that it’s hard not to eventually lose interest. (If you need an example of what I’m talking about, go check out Netflix’s Inventing Anna.) The Dropout‘s first three episodes were well-done but it’s still hard not to feel that the story told in those three hours could have just as easily been told in 20 minutes, without denying the viewer anything that they needed to know to understand Elizabeth and Sunny. There are five more episodes to go. Can the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos remain interesting for 8 hours? I’m hopeful but I’m not totally sure.

With all that in mind, I’m recommending The Dropout, on the basis of the first three episodes. But remember …. I was originally pretty enthusiastic about Pam & Tommy as well.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #108: The Brave One (dir by Neil Jordan)


Brave_one_2007For our next entry in Embracing the Melodrama Part II, we take a look at Jodie Foster in the 2007 film The Brave One.  And…

Well, how to put this delicately?

I hate hate hate hate HATE this movie, with every last fiber of my being.  I hated it the first time that I saw it and I hated it when I recently rewatched it and right now, I’m hating the fact that I even decided to review this damn film because it means that I’m going to have to think about it.  I’m going to try to get this review over with quickly because, with each minute that I think about this film, I doubt my commitment to cinema.  That’s how much I hate this movie.  If I’m not careful, I’m going to end up joining a nunnery before I finish this review…

So, in The Brave One, Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain.  Erica lives in New York and hosts one of those pretentious late night radio shows that are always popular in movies like this but which, in real life, nobody in their right mind would waste a second listening to.  Erica spends her time musing about life in the big city and hoping that we can all just love one another and expressing a lot of other thoughts that sound like they’ve been stolen from an automated twitter account.

Erica also has a boyfriend.  His name is David and he’s played by Naveen Andrews.  That means that he looks good and he has a sexy accent and when he first shows up, you hope that he’ll stick around for a while because otherwise, you’re going to have to listen to move of Erica’s radio monologues.  But nope — one night, while walking through Central Park, David and Erica are attacked.  David is killed.  Erica is raped.  And their dog is taken by the gang!

(And the film doesn’t seem to know which it thinks is worse…)

When Erica gets out of the hospital, she is, at first, terrified to leave her apartment.  Or, at least, she’s terrified to leave her apartment for about five minutes.  But then she does find the courage to go outside and, of course, the first thing she does is buy a gun.  At first, she’s buying the gun for her own state of mind but, almost immediately after purchasing her firearms, she happens to stumble across a convenience store robbery.

Bang!  Bang!  Erica’s a vigilante now!

But, of course, she’s not really sure if that’s what she wants to be.  Even though she eventually ends up sitting on a subway and waiting for a guy to approach her so she can shoot him, Erica is still never really that comfortable with the idea of seeking vengeance.  And this is why I hated The Brave One.  The film is so damned wishy washy about Erica’s motivations.  Instead of allowing Erica to get any sort of satisfaction or emotional fulfillment out of her actions, The Brave One has her constantly doubting whether or not violence is the answer.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that violence is the answer.  But if you’re going to make a film about a female vigilante who is out looking for vengeance, why don’t you at least allow her to get some sort of empowerment out of her actions?  That doesn’t mean that the film itself can’t be ambiguous about what she’s doing.  But by having Erica constantly questioning her actions, it makes her into a weak character and it lets the men who raped her and the ones who subsequently threaten to do the same off the hook.  It allows them to be seen as victims, as opposed to products of a society where men are raised to believe that women will never fight back.

There’s a far superior New York-set film that has almost the same plot as The Brave One.  The title of that film was Ms. 45.  It was made for a hundred times less money than The Brave One and, at the same time, it was and remains a hundred times better.  (I previously wrote about Ms. 45 and The Brave One in my essay, Too Sordid To Ever Be Corrupted.)

The difference between the two films can be summed up by the film’s tag lines.  The Brave One was advertised with, “How many wrongs to make it right?”  Ms. 45 was advertised with: “She was abused and violated … IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!”   Ms. 45 features a vigilante who never doubts her actions and, as a result, she becomes a symbol not of violence but of empowerment.  Meanwhile, Jodie Foster is so constantly wracked with guilt and doubt that the film almost seems to be criticizing her for not staying in her apartment and trusting the police (represented by Terrence Howard and Nicky Katt) to do their job.

Oh!  And, of course, at the end of the film, Erica gets her dog back.  Because nobody ever permanently loses their dog in a big budget studio film…

And really, that’s why The Brave One is such a failure.  It takes a subject that was tailor-made for the grindhouse and attempts to give it the slick and self-important studio approach.  And part of that approach is that no one can be offended.  This is a film that both wants to celebrate and condemn at the same time.

And that’s why I say, “Give me Ms. 45!”

At least that movie knows what it wants to say…