L13FC: For the love of characters or why ‘The Shape of Water’ was better than ‘3 Billboards’

Let’s talk about the two leading films of the year assuming you have by now watched them. One annoyed the heck out of me and the other one pleased me on a number of levels. I’ve been thinking about why I utterly disliked Three Billboards and why I liked The Shape of Water. Structurally, the problem for me were the characters. Let me explain.


When telling a story, there have to be good guys and bad guys. It’s fine if your protagonist has faults, but if they are utterly unlikeable, then I can’t invest emotionally in their plight. In 3 Billboards there is only one character that garnered my sympathy. The son. The rest are obnoxious and deplorable. The big problem of the film is the unlikeability of Mildred Hayes played by Frances McDormand. I should feel the compassion of a mother experiencing a tragedy. What’s the point of the only flashback to the daughter showing them fighting and insulting one-another in a Jerry-Springer-low-brow dysfunctional fight? Mildred kicking two students at the curb and her speech to a priest who came to visit are two examples that made her unlikeable. Martin McDonagh’s script slaps the audience with shock statements instead of building an emotional relationship between the characters and the audience. What’s missing is subtlety and depth. The film never goes deeper than verbal insults, physical insults, unrealistic conversations, and motivations. It was painful to watch. A rare exception to this is when Woody Harrelson’s character Chief Bill Willoughby earns my emotions when McDonagh employs the voice over to show the chief’s remorse. Obviously, a lot of people loved the dark comedy. Frances’s Best Actress award was a shoe-in, but I thought her character was boring.

In The Shape of Water, the 1960s fairytale includes subtle references to social ills at the time. All the characters are endearing except for the obvious bad guy, governmental henchman Richard Stickland, played perfectly by Michael Shannon. Showing instead of telling, the story shows the fears from the 1960s such as fears of difference–Russian ideology, segregation, and homosexuality. The creature was part of the allegory, a wish by the characters to live in a fairytale world like the movies Elisa and Giles watch on the television set, manifested in their bubble world, all outcasts from the real world, the mute, “dumb” Elisa, the lonely Giles whose illustrations have become old-fashioned and replaced by photography, and we love him because his rejections refuse to destroy him. The fairy tale is full of depth and subtlety. It’s a far more interesting film. Add the beautiful set designs of the Orpheum theater, the windows in the apartment building, the teal colors of water, and a romantic, satisfying score by Alexandre Desplat, all add up to an instant winner in my book. I’m glad it won Best Picture.


So what are your thoughts on the balance of characters? If you liked Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I’d like to know why you thought it was a well written, dark comedy. 


Lucky 13 Film Club February Topic

What a great cast, script, and costumes. Bravo, Robert Altman
What a great cast, script, and costumes. Bravo, Robert Altman

The Revenant sparked up many discussions on January the 13th. I thank everyone who stopped by to take part. What you missed it? No worries, check out the day’s conversation and add to the https://cindybruchman.com/2016/01/13/the-lucky-13-film-club-the-revenant/. Thank you, Tom at digitalshortbread, for co-hosting.

Annette Bening gives a fine performance. I love the stories of W. Somerset Maugham.
Annette Bening gives a fine performance. I love the stories of W. Somerset Maugham.

For February 13, the day before Valentine’s Day, I’ve invited my pal (She visited AZ and we met and hiked in the Red Rocks.) and the most congenial movie buff in the blogosphere, Ruth at flixchatter, to co-host February’s topic.  Have you thought about the comedic style of British films set in the 1930s that star female protagonists? Let’s look at three examples: Being Julia, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and Gosford Park. 

Frances McDormand and Amy Adams recreate the 1930s comedy.
Frances McDormand and Amy Adams recreate the 1930s comedy.
All you need do is revisit one or more of these British love stories. On the surface their plots are silly, but their themes are deep and Oscar Wilde’s influence abounds. They are visual feasts and fun to watch. I also like this period offering a glimpse of the two worlds of the rich and poor before WWII.
Do you see a connection? Join us on February 13 and let’s talk about it. 

Four Favorites: Character Actresses

They provide enrichment and chemistry for their casting partners. Often they are there to make the principal beauty shine brighter. Maybe they can’t compete visually with the looks of Adams, Winslet, or Hepburn, but their unique faces and powerhouse acting always elevate a film. I’d prefer watching them over glamour girls any day. Here are a four of my favorites:

Emily Watson

Whether in Punch Drunk Love, The Proposition, or any of her famous roles above, I’m always impressed with her range and consistency. I don’t think she’s ever acted poorly.

Tilda Swinton


I think the only actress who could give Cate Blanchett a run for her money is Tilda Swinton. Translucent and androgynous, she transforms into anything she wants. Got six minutes? Here’s a weird music video showcasing David Bowie’s 2013 single, “The Stars are Out Tonight”.  The two could be twins, you’ve probably noticed, and it’s cool to see them in this macabre video.

Kathy Bates 

Kathy can play sweet, intellectual, outlandish, and psychotic. She’s had a great career on the screen and on television. She commands every scene she’s in.

Frances McDormand

Sure being married to Joel Coen has catapulted her career, but she doesn’t need him to be an outstanding actress. She gets deep into her characters and presents a whole new person every time she’s on the screen. I thought her utterly charming in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and sobering in North Country. 


And yours? Which film will you watch just because she’s in it?

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