Review: Suffragette disappoints while raising larger questions

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On Friday, March 31, Boise State screened the 2015 film “Suffragette” at the Special Events Center in the Student Union Building.

Based on my grading metric that seems to change with each review, I’d give “Suffragette” a 4/10. Director Sarah Gavron operates with such a heavy hand that at points in the film, it sails past “tear-jerker” and moves into the uneasy realm of “tears at gunpoint.” If, at any juncture you’re watching “Suffragette” and you’re unsure how you should be feeling right now, fret not—Sarah Gavron will quickly let you know. I’m hard pressed to think of a moment in the film that wasn’t drenched in the movie’s score—a forgettable one, by the way, which called to mind anxiety more than it did oppression.

No moment or dialogue exchange felt false, so I can’t fault the cast for any of their performances, and the set and costumes were totally passable. As a brief aside, it’s incredible how natural Helena Bohnam Carter looks in a turn-of-the century mugshot. It’s hard to explain. For this reason alone, you may have to watch “Suffragette.”

While “Suffragette” may have failed as a whole, this failure can’t be related to its artistic design. The dirty claustrophobic streets of London and the massive laundering complex that the protagonist, Carey Mulligan, worked at felt appropriately Dickensian, even almost two decades into the 20th century. No, the shortcomings of the film, that is, what made it feel Lifetime-esque, lie squarely on the shoulders of its creative control.

This movie is one of those rare cinematic examples where the circumstances surrounding it are more interesting than the innocuous film itself.

As the film was launched, Meryl Streep used its momentum to begin a conversation about the disparity among the paychecks of male and female actors in Hollywood. While I don’t doubt for a second Streep’s allegation, her connection to “Suffragette” may have not been the best jumping-off point to start that discussion, in spite of the obvious relevance. In fact, it may have done the effort harm.

Though I’m sure that Streep collected one of the largest paychecks due to her acting prowess and her legendary reputation in cinema, Streep’s appearance in “Suffragette” can best be categorized as brief. It was more of a cameo than a supporting role, actually. I didn’t have my stopwatch on me, but I would put her dialogue time at right around two minutes, in one scene, in spite of appearing on the theatrical release poster.

Now just to avoid an angry letter from either of my readers—Hi mom!—I’m not saying Streep’s argument doesn’t hold water; it simply wasn’t tactful to use the release of this movie, which required exactly one very lucrative day of work from Streep.

But the flipside male-half of the argument is even more problematic. According to screenwriter Abi Morgan, there was trouble finding male actors because the roles weren’t “meaty enough”—read: emasculating. This is, in and of itself, funny. In the 21st Century it seems incredibly easy for men to find themselves sexually threatened. Let’s not forget that the mancave is the ultimate “proto-safe space.” Evidently, some actors, such as the immortal Brendan Gleason, could find the sheer willpower to play a supporting role to *gasp* a woman in a movie about *double gasp* women. As the feckless “Suffragette” seems to want to say, the more things change—well you know the rest.


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