Best Picture Showcase: Women Talking
Sarah Polley Delivers the Best Script Since Manchester By The Sea With Her Harrowing Adaptation of Miriam Toews’ Eponymous Novel
Even in the bleakest crevices of the world, hope endures. For what is life without hope? This simple idea sits at the forefront of every frame in Women Talking, infusing itself into every argument, confrontation, and understanding between these titular characters as they face what may be the most important decision of their lives. Even as the horrors of the world threaten to tear them apart, these divided women find themselves bound to the notion of hope, not only for them but for their children.
Loosely based on real-life occurrences, Women Talking starts with a deceptively straightforward setup: a vote. After a string of gas-facilitated rapes that have left most of them bruised and beaten and others pregnant, an isolated group of women Mennonites must decide whether they do nothing, stay and fight the men responsible for these attacks, or simply leave the community. When doing nothing is out of the question, discussions among the community’s female leaders break out over what to do next. From here, the film plays out in a series of dynamic arguments that naturally unspool the gravity of these attacks and the impact they hold on all of these women’s psyches. Vows to God are threatened, morals are compromised, and innocence is violated as the women suppress the violent urge to take matters into their own hands.
When we think of dialogue-driven movies, we usually think of the fast-talking nature of Sorkin characters or the rambling monologues of Tarintino. Writer/Director Sarah Polley’s Women Talking takes on a more subdued pace with its dialogue, which makes the script all the more impactful. Moments of silence or seemingly meaningless tangents strike a chord as influential as the fiery, flashy outbursts that endure over this feature-length discussion. Polley’s script fleshes these characters out through anger and passion, fury and vengeance, and, most importantly, love and hope. These are characters damaged by the harsh world around them, and they feel refreshingly honest and distinct as each one carries their own nuances and motivations. A simple tale of a favorite pet or the swift light of a match adds layers to these women, differentiating each of them with specific personalities and characteristics. No woman is the same, and its shown through their combative debates. As one tries to look forward to a brighter tomorrow, another refuses to let go of the crimes of the past. It’s a riveting back-and-forth, and it’s all thanks to Polley’s deft and tightly-knit script. Honestly, I haven’t fallen in love with a script like this since Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea.
But a script is merely just words on paper without a strong cast. Luckily, Polley assembled one hell of an ensemble.
To say Women Talking has one of the best ensembles of the year (2022) is an understatement. Filled with pitch-perfect performances from every player, both big and small, it’s an ensemble that is destined to be remembered for years to come, akin to the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling cast in Magonlia or Robert Altman’s seemingly endless roster of talent in Short Cuts. Without a single weak link, Women Talking provides countless Oscar-worthy performances, particularly from The Crown’s Claire Foy and one of last year’s nominees Jessie Buckley. Not to mention another standout from the film’s sole male figure, Ben Whishaw, who in another life would have earned his first Oscar nomination for his depiction of the timid yet understanding August. These are performers at the top of their game, elevating already strong material to its fullest performances. Through them, we understand the anger, the frustration, the despair, all of it from the simplest of glances or the loudest of outbursts. While Whishaw had no hope of winning over the likes of Ke Huy Quan, his omission was a particularly hurtful one where Buckley and Foy’s snubs were just downright inexcusable (especially when you consider the eventual winner of the category).
Women Talking is an artful insight into the harsh realities of our world. A sharp scope into the pain we endure and the suffering that comes with it. Anchored by a beautifully woven script, the film makes even the most minute interactions riveting and compelling, crafting an impactful piece of entertainment that both enthralls and repulses. As the horrors of these attacks are interspersed throughout the narrative, the film’s influence sneaks up on you like a lurching intruder waiting to pounce. And with a dedicated and vivid cast such as this, the impact of the film is pushed even deeper, leaving a feeling that will linger with you long after the film cuts to black.