Three Billboards and Some Orange Juice

Three Billboards and Some Orange Juice March 18, 2018

The movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri tried too hard to be Best Picture. As a result, it failed, even if it left us with some very fine acting and some acting that was acting like very fine acting. This is a good movie, even if it distorts history and the region it describes by showing one side of it.  The story is a fakery, as false as if Pollyanna was told to children as the truth.

The difference is that everyone knew that such visions as Uncle Walt made were idealized while a film like Three Billboards will be praised for gritty “realism.” If you went to a town like Ebbing, and found what the filmmaker portrayed, then you have gotten lost in your mind. Places like the fictional Ebbing, Missouri, can be great places to live and did not deserve to be turned into a parody for Oscar bait.

Surely the stereotypes of the hicks in the film, people already suffering cultural marginalization, are offensive.  On top of it all, the African-American characters in the film and the handling of race is . . .awkward.

Perhaps the problem is that the story aimed for more intellectual heft than the writer or director was capable of delivering. He got powers, Oscar worthy performances out the three main characters. Anytime Frances McDormand is on screen, the film works. As a movie about anger, thwarted justice, and a mother’s rage, the story holds together.

Things go wrong with the film’s ham handed attempts at philosophy. Is there meaning to it all? That’s a question worth asking, but the very answers people in Ebbing would likely give are ignored or belittled. Evidently nobody goes to church in Ebbing except to one Catholic parish. Given that one area of rural Missouri I looked up has (roughly) 80,000 Catholics in a population of almost one million, this seems as dubious, even it allows a lazy dismissal of religion.

Such hope as there is in the film comes with eye-rolling obviousness. One man gives another man a glass of orange juice with a straw even though the two have been sworn foes. The rest of the film features people who are unlikable in the extreme. Black Panther has a more subtle and nuanced view of power, pain, and revenge and it is a film based on a comic book. The supporting cast of Three Billboards  remind me of the supporting cast in high school plays: barely costumed or directed since all the attention went to the leads.

There is not a doubt that there are racist cops in places like Ebbing as there are in places like Detroit. There are stores that sell souvenirs in Manhattan and I assume such stores are in towns like Ebbing. Priests do the hard work of healing hurting souls in places like Ebbing and most have heard the Twitter feed attacks on their profession before now. They would know what to say.

In short, this film is about a place and people much, much less plausible than Wakanda. It’s a film that stereotypes an entire group of people (white people in Missouri), while also dealing in racist stereotypes. It does philosophy like an undergrad major with too much Jagermeister and a typewriter.

Yet the acting . . .

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