Marianna Palka’s Bitch: Great Premise, Okay Follow-Through

Okay, so, this movie was on Netflix, and the description was “The Patriarchy has driven her to the edge. Must she become a raging, snarling, barking beast to finally be heard?” Cards on the table, from that description, I thought this might be like Ginger Snaps. If you haven’t seen that movie, it’s much better than this one, in almost every way. But, while that is a movie that cleverly uses Lycanthropy to address puberty, this film went a very, very different way.

SUMMARY

BitchHanging.jpg
It looks like a leash and collar. Get it?

The movie starts with Jill Hart (Writer/Director Marianna Palka), trying to hang herself with her husband’s belt. However, after seeing a dog in her yard staring at her, she relents. As Jill goes about her day, we’re shown that she is the wife to a cheating, selfish husband and the mother to… well, not the worst kids, honestly. I mean, they take her for granted, but… they’re kids. They’re better behaved than many sitcom kids, even. I guess because there are four of them, they’re inherently a ton of stress? Sure, let’s go with that.

However, after her husband, Bill (Jason Ritter), keeps lying to her and not listening to her (especially about the dog), he wakes up to find that she isn’t in the house. After having to spend the day taking care of his kids, which he is objectively terrible at, while also trying to deal with his company failing (and his side-piece getting fired), Bill, along with Jill’s sister, Beth (Jaime King), start to worry about Jill’s whereabouts. When Bill and Beth come home, the kids inform him that they have found their mother. She’s in the basement, but she is acting like a wild dog. Growling, barking, scratching, pooping, the works. Weirdly, the kids seem amused by this, even the older ones, rather than, you know, FREAKED THE HELL OUT.

BitchJillDog

The family brings in doctors to see Jill, but they’re mostly stumped as to what is happening. The doctors suggest that, since this is a serious mental break, Jill needs inpatient treatment for her own safety. Bill, because he is a dick, blames Jill for trying to ruin his life, and tells the doctors to leave.

BitchBethBill
Yes, Beth, he made this about him.

Bill and the kids try to get by without her, to the tune of a weird Leave It to Beaver-esque soundtrack. The kids still don’t seem too concerned about their mother’s welfare, and Bill tries to just move on with his life, drugging his wife’s meals to keep her quiet. Only Beth actually seems to realize that what’s happening is really f*cked up. Meanwhile, Bill stops going to work because he thinks he’s going to be fired.

The oldest daughter confronts Bill about his irresponsibility, but it’s a weird scene because she’s clearly old enough to take care of much of the stuff that she’s complaining about. She’s complaining that they’re completely out of food, but… she’s like 17. He clearly would give her the credit card or some money to go get stuff. Hell, she could probably just have it delivered. They live in a nice suburban neighborhood.

Bill gets fired, then tries to be a decent father to his kids, and tells the girl he was cheating with that it’s over. However, Beth catches him and yells at him, at which point Jill escapes from the home and runs naked through the streets on all fours.

BitchIceCream
You can tell he’s trying, because he got them ice cream.

Beth and Jill’s parents try to take custody of Jill, but Bill fights for her. Finally, the family starts to come together in a redemption montage, and Bill and Jill spend a day together, during which Bill acts like a dog. That night, Jill attacks him, trying to maul him, then immediately tries to flee. Bill catches her and tells her that she can be whatever she needs to be, because he loves her. The next morning, he awakes to her… possibly being normal. It’s a little ambiguous, but I think she’s normal.

BitchEnd
I don’t get “Dog” from this look

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, the premise for this movie is actually pretty good. I like the idea that dealing with the fact that her family doesn’t really listen to her leads Jill to become a wild dog. Palka really sells the performance. The problem is that, after the premise starts in the first act, the movie kind of doesn’t know where to go, and the characters are not well defined enough to carry it without stronger plotting.

BitchJillJill is actually probably the most developed character, despite being a dog most of the movie. Her emoting in the brief flashbacks and human scenes is really strong, and conveys how sad she has been for a long time. The problem is, we don’t get enough of a picture of who she is before she’s a dog, even with Palka’s strong performance. You can even see her start to turn a little feral in the build-up to the breakdown.

The kids are weird. Like half the time they don’t seem to care that their mom is a dog. They even find it funny. But, their mom isn’t acting like a goofy dog. She’s angry and covered in her own crap (which is really weird, because dogs usually don’t immediately roll around in their poop). Then, when Bill freaks out and runs off for a few minutes, they get angry that “he left.”

BitchKids
Seriously, this is them discussing their mother’s plight

Beth complains that she does everything for the family, but the kids are also talking about how they’re out of food, and the milk is spoiled and such. She’s worried about her sister, justifiably, but she really kind of doesn’t do anything when she sees that Bill is doing nothing, so I guess she doesn’t really feel that compelled to address it.

BitchBill
Vodka shower

And then there’s Bill. Bill is an adulterer. Bill literally doesn’t listen to anyone (to the point that he forgets Beth’s married or that her husband is in AA). Bill only seems to care that he’s being inconvenienced by his wife. Bill is worried more that he’s going to lose his job than his family. Bill even suggests at one point, bizarrely, that the reason for Jill’s craziness is that his penis is too big. He’s just… too over the top. He’s too oblivious and useless and patriarchy-propagating, that when he suddenly changes (over the like 3 weeks of the movie) into a good dad and husband and decides to fight against his in-laws over (JUSTIFIABLY) committing Jill, it just seems contrived.

Also, throughout the movie, you keep finding yourself shouting, “WHY IS NO ONE GETTING JILL HELP??” Seriously, she is covered in feces and eating dog food while being drugged involuntarily by her husband. This is not normal. And at the end, Jill is cured apparently by Bill saying that she can be whatever she wants to be? I mean, that’s the moral of “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” in the Canterbury Tales and I get if that’s the point, but that’s basically saying that she needs his permission to be herself, which kinda muddles it. Or maybe I’m too male to get this message.

Ultimately, the movie is trying to make a very good point, but by having the character responses to it be so unbelievable, it kind of weakens the moral. Still, I would be on the lookout for this writer/director in the future.

Update: Also, she plays Vicky the Viking on GLOW on Netflix.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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