dir-scr Marianna Palka
prd Michael Moran, Daniel Noah, Josh C Waller, Elijah Wood
with Jason Ritter, Jaime King, Marianna Palka, Brighton Sharbino, Jason Maybaum, Kingston Foster, Rio Mangini, Sol Rodriguez, Caroline Aaron, Bill Smitrovich, Zac Clark, Roger Guenveur Smith
release UK 13.Oct17, US 10.Nov.17
17/US 1h33
We need to take care of mommy: Sharbino and Ritter

ritter king palka
sundance london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Bitch A jarring production style and unsympathetic characters make it difficult to enjoy this offbeat pitch-black comedy, but there are important themes that surge up throughout the story to make it worth a look. And it's always great to see a film that keeps you off-balance. In addition, writer-director Marianna Palka draws boldly realistic performances from her cast. And herself.

Bill (Ritter) is an overworked businessman in downtown Los Angeles, but that's nothing compared to his stressed-out wife Jill (Palka) back home with their four kids (teens Sharbino and Maybaum, and the younger Foster and Mangini) in the suburbs. Suicidal and darkly disturbed, Jill suddenly starts behaving like a feral dog, and no one has a clue what to do. Her sister Beth (King) wants to seek medical help, but Bill tries to pretend like everything's fine. With the kids in meltdown and his job at stake, something's got to give.

Palka directs the film in an abrasive style to depict the pressures of everyday life for this frazzled family. Background noises drown out most scenes, and there's a constant flurry of ringing phones and clamouring children. It's vivid and effective but uncomfortable to watch, since this makes everything feel frenzied. Inventively, the noisiness subsides as the story takes some increasingly disturbing turns, although the characters' realistically selfish reactions are equally unnerving.

Ritter is full-on in the role, and it's an often shocking performance since Bill is so relentlessly awful to everyone. But there are some rather endearing cracks in him as well, a deep insecurity that the events force him to face. Ritter manages this complexity with skill, and makes the most of the prickly relationships Bill has with everyone else on screen. Meanwhile, Palka has an obviously more colourful role, which veers in riveting directions every time it begins to feel gimmicky. And King and Sharbino have particularly strong characters as well.

The solid acting helps make the absurdist premise almost eerily plausible. There is never a tongue in a cheek, even though some conversations veer in very oddball directions, bordering on farce. But this is a serious movie about the pressures society puts on both men and women, causing them to suffer in different ways (side characters offer some other options). And what it says about a woman's role is chilling. So it's a shame the film isn't more engaging as a whole, leaving us thinking but only rarely feeling anything.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 30.May.17

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