Every year at Sundance, there’s at least one movie, usually in the midnight section, that seems to revel in provoking walkouts. While I admire the subversive instincts of films like The Greasy Strangler and Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, I wish I could enjoy them in the same way the filmmakers enjoy pushing buttons. Bitch is the walkout movie of this Sundance, although I saw it at a press screening where it’s not surprising industry and critics wouldn’t go for it. Perhaps the intended midnight audience ate it up, pun intended.
Jill (Marianna Palka who also wrote and directed) is suicidal from being ignored by her husband Bill (Jason Ritter), who is cheating on her at the office while leaving her with their four children. One day Jill disappears leaving Bill to frantically take care of the kids for the day. They find Jill in the basement behaving like a dog, having peed and pooped all over herself and the kitchen floor.
So this is an interesting vehicle for Palka to create for herself. She certainly gives a bravura performance covered in shit and barking in a dark basement. It’s hard to say it’s tasteful the way they obscure her actual nudity, but she is still naked covered in filth.
The premise is revolting but I’m okay with that. She’s got something to say. I celebrate going all the way with it and I’d love to understand why she wants to present herself this way, but I don’t. It would be easy to call it self-loathing but that seems too obvious. Yet if there was another message, it’s giving way to the self-loathing interpretation.
It’s the tone of the whole movie that throws off the extreme repulsion. It’s absurd broad pratfall comedy with abstract non linear reality. The dog thing is weird enough that the rest of the movie should be grounded. The tone goes so far it’s off putting. Yes, the chatter of four hyperactive children is stressful. Yes, babbling at the office to make excuses for this situation you couldn’t possibly explain is weird. The kids putting on a fake Christmas is weird. And then Bill starts talking about his big dick.
It’s edited in such a disorienting way. Imagine we were all ready to accept the premise of Bitch when we walked into the theater, but if it’s not even being explored in a linear way that’s a bit too much. Add to that the sound mix distorting background sounds and overlapping dialogue with bubbly sounds or drum/cymbal cacophony, and the movie is pushing you away the entire time.
I can’t say any of this is a mistake though. Bitch is not an amateur movie that failed in its ambitions. All of this is intentional so perhaps Palka achieved her desired provocation. It should be clear from my description whether or not it would provoke you.
You can read a positive take on the film right here.