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  • Amanda Dutkiewicz

Birds of Prey, or, How I Learned to Love the Female Gaze

Birds of Prey is a candy-coated, cocaine-sniffing girl’s night out, featuring roller-skating while being pulled by a motorcycle and stabbing bad-guy creeps to ride their bodies down sliding boards in an abandoned amusement park funhouse. Written by Christina Hodson, who also penned 2018’s adorable and nostalgic Bumblebee, the film nails the idea that women can look after women, even when they’re on different teams, even when they have nothing in common (Or almost nothing, except for man-baby Ewan McGregor trying to kill them). The cast--oh my God, the cast. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the quiet, buff, intimidating sharpshooter embodying social awkwardness, Huntress. Jurnee Smollett-Bell brings the careful, composed elegance of Black Canary with a signature boldness. Rosie Perez nails a desperate, alcoholic detective Renee Montoya, and Ella Jay Basco is the immature pick-pocket Cassandra Cain, who the rest spend the movie chasing because she swallows an important diamond. Ewan McGregor, as the villain Black Mask (or Roman Sionis--”Romie” as Harley calls him) does exactly what he needs to, the perfect mix of pissy whine-time and genuinely terrifying murder kook. He thinks he knows more than he does, that he understands the world in a way that makes him better than others and that he deserves a platform to voice terrible, inept opinions--which makes him both ridiculous and scary, as he has that power. This role would’ve been Alan Cumming’s if this was somewhere between 1999-2005. It’s that camp, and a genius satire of the male persona. I couldn’t be prouder of Margot Robbie’s glow-up--which I did not realize was one until I saw this movie in action. The trailers, the billboards--they all threw me off for some reason. I didn’t like the colors, or the style, or the way the marketing seemed to lack something that I couldn’t pinpoint. Then, as I was watching, it hit me--this movie was made with love, to be fun--and not to pander. It feels good to watch a film that doesn’t fall into anything it doesn’t want to. Her character design--with those big poofy confetti-sleeves and baby-pigtails--solidifies her status of “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing but I’m going to do whatever I want” character-type. Her choppy bangs serve a purpose--she just got out of a shitty relationship and gave herself a shitty breakup haircut. Duh. It’s something people do. And it highlights the reckless decision-making she is prone too, having to fix her own mistakes as she digs herself bigger holes. That being said, she really finds herself in this movie. Robbie does a great job becoming the down-on-her-luck Harley forging her path in the Lisa Frank-styled world around her. Going in, I was skeptical of Robbie as Harley--she is such a vivid character I was afraid she wasn’t going to go all out for. She is a clown after all. I don’t know when it hit, but it might have been the cocaine-baseball-bat-and-setting-a-man’s-beard-on-fire-scene. I can say that it took me a few moments to keep my grounding at first. The film begins and jumps from present to flashback and back again a few times--it is a bit unsteady. What really holds it together is the humor. Did I mention this movie is genuinely funny? It’s genuinely funny. The best joke isn’t even spoken. It’s written, in brazen red font, across Detective Renee Montoya’s t-shirt:“I SHAVED MY BALLS FOR THIS.” Surprised? Me too. Why? Maybe because we don’t get a lot of female-starred action movies with a focus on dark humor. There is something demeaning in comparing this to any other female-focused comic book movie (not that there are many to choose from in the first place), or the villain-focused movies before it (we’ll pretend Suicide Squad didn’t happen, ick)--or even movies which share a similar dark-but-fun sense of humor and wild tendencies. Many have related it to Deadpool, another film starring a mad, hyperactive protagonist--yet, I cannot bring myself to compare it to anything related to the works of Rob Liefeld, the infamous no-waist no-feet all-breast-and-hip comics illustrator, who, not too long ago, tweeted his praise for the old hyper-sexualized Suicide Squad Harley and called the costume design in this film reminiscent of “Ronald McDonald.” I want to ask director Cathy Yan how she managed to make a movie so wonderfully feminine that men can barely perceive it--is it not in their discernible color spectrum? Have we surpassed the male gaze? Was the Divine Feminine in the circus all along? It seems so, because Twitter comicbros cannot seem to wrap their heads around the idea that maybe, just maybe female characters do not have to cater to their fantasies to be well-written and well-acted, nor to have a fun and wonderful dark comedy superhero/villain flick. Ladies, we have transcended. Existing outside these expectations truly allows Robbie & co. to shine in this film. The cast exudes a camaraderie and confidence I have rarely seen in other big-name team-ups. Even when these characters hate each other, they have more of a dynamic than many other big-screen teams ever did. I wish these dynamics played out sooner in the film, though--it is truly stunning to see these women reluctantly yet wholeheartedly become a working group. They start a haphazard team with a common goal and witty banter, yet the stylized, fun, and energetic teamwork through the action choreography weaves them together. I believe that these women have each others’ backs, and ultimately, although from separate circumstances and going separate directions afterwards, they share something special, wise, and badass. To be honest, this movie has terrible pacing and lots of plot-holes. It falls into the trope of a terrible person learning to be less terrible by becoming responsible--but it is refreshing and true to the character as a villain that she kind of comes around but also remains an active asshole throughout. My other qualms are subjective: I think Huntress needs more screen time. I identify with numbskull crossbow lady and she had a motorcycle that I wanted to see more of (but lack of motorcycle may be an objective qualm, everything needs more motorcycle). That, and fuck the cover of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Lorde did an edgy cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World '' in 2013 and now every movie thinks it needs an edgy 80s cover. Stop. Can we please leave this in the previous decade? Write your own original edgy music, like Billie Eilish or something. And even though it might not be doing well by today’s box office standards for a comic-book action film, I predict it’ll be a hidden feminist gem in 20 years. The female comic fan solidarity I have seen this movie create is something special--it draws you in, lets you ask, Did it really do that? Especially in a market of male-dominated action flicks, it feels like it isn’t allowed to be as blatantly loving towards women as it is. Despite some logistical flaws, it is the perfect film to lose yourself in. Have a soda, snort a pixie stick, and have fun with a crazy clown-lady and her crazy friends. Header screenshot via Kinocheck International via Youtube


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