Austin Film Festival 2021
Greetings again from the darkness. I don’t know her inspiration for all of the relationships and events in the film – and I don’t need to. Lorien Haynes originally wrote this for the stage, and now her multiple movie shorts have been edited together for a feature film that feels like a gut punch. Her film is unusual for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that 20 directors are responsible for the various segments. Yep, twenty.
One of those 20 is Ms. Haynes herself, who also stars as “The Woman”. The film opens with her bruised and injured after an encounter with an abusive partner. It’s a visceral scene that leads us into the woman’s therapy sessions, where she recounts her various relationships over the years. As the title states, her objective is to protect her 16 year old daughter from making the same mistakes … a goal so many parents share.
Creative title cards give us “reasons to go to therapy” and “reasons not to go to therapy”, as well as general introductions to each segment/man. The woman goes back as far as “her first”, which also involves an unexpected pregnancy. For the younger period, Issy Knopfler (daughter of Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler) plays The Woman, and does an excellent job of portraying someone trying to learn themselves while also understanding relationships.
The therapy sessions (led by an unseen Alan Cumming) form the structure of the story as The Woman walks us through the men in her life, and the impact that each had. Following her on this journey leads us through topics such as abortion, abuse, addiction, drugs, booze, blackouts, infidelity, panic attacks, friendships, and self-worth. The Woman covers a lot of ground, and leaves little doubt why she hopes to save her daughter from some of this pain. We even touch on the impact of her parents.
As you would expect, there are many actors involved here. Some you’ll likely recognize (Jason Isaacs, James Purefoy, Sullivan Stapleton) and some you won’t. Although it’s billed as a black comedy, the film left me feeling quite miserable – despite being commendable for the direct manner in which it addresses so many life challenges faced by women. It’s also remarkable in that the work of 20 directors (all female) can be stitched together to form a coherent cautionary tale.