REVIEW: Made in Dagenham

14 06 2017

You don’t have to like every movie you agree with, and you don’t have to dislike every movie you disagree with. In fact, some of the most interesting film watching experiences come from wrestling with feelings that result from this dissonance. (The latter of the two options is far more challenging, though, in my opinion.)

Made in Dagenham” is a classic example of that first type of cinema, a message movie that reaffirms many basic beliefs about social progress. As working-class sewing machine operators in suburban London fight for equal pay, led by Sally Hawkins’ plucky Rita O’Grady, the film invites us to applaud the struggles and advances towards ending sexism. It asks relatively little of us, instead reassuring us with the familiar storyline of white women saving the world – and doing little to motivate us to continue closing the gender pay gap.

The film has great performances to spare and proves amusing, even rousing, entertainment. But it never challenges, nor does it provoke. “Made in Dagenham” plays into the notion that the arc of history bends towards justice because of the efforts of our ancestors. It does little to incite the next generation to continue exerting force to keep the shape of that bend. C+

Oscar Moment: “Made in Dagenham”

22 10 2010

“Made in Dagenham” could fill a whole lot of quotas at this year’s Oscars.

To start off, it’s British.  Secondly, it’s British.  Oh yeah, and did I mention it’s British?

There’s always interest when it comes to our friends across the pond as a second “British Invasion” is beginning to sway the Academy in a different direction.   And they sure do love recognizing their own movies, even if they aren’t very good (cough, “The Reader”).  If you can’t tell by the accents, “Made in Dagenham” is a VERY British movie, even enhancing its anglophilic capabilities by chronicling a period of social history in the United Kingdom.

Which brings me to my next point: it’s about women’s rights!  Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) leads a strike of sewing workers to fight for equal pay for all sexes.  This true story of trying to end discrimination by gender is even told with a touch of comedy to keep it from devolving into “Norma Rae.”  What’s not for the Academy to like?

I’ve thrown out a lot of possibilities for a so-called “The Blind Side” slot.  It pains me to think that such a thing exists, but we have to consider inspirational and heartwarming movies a threat no matter how cheesy they may be.  I’ve suggested that “Conviction” and “Secretariat” both have qualities that make them a threat in a similar way, and you can add in “Made in Dagenham” to that list as well.  After the movie bowed at Toronto, Kris Tapley of In Contention stated that “the story is exactly the sort of underdog tale that can make an awards dent, especially in a field of 10.”

If it turns out to be a crowd-pleaser, even if just to a smaller crowd, this could easily be nominated when you take into account that it has pretty solid reviews.  I see a close parallel in “An Education” – a light British drama with a dynamite leading turn.  Sally Hawkins, two years removed from a snub for Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky,” is back and blazing in this role.  Some have compared her to Sally Field, who won an Oscar in 1979 for her role in “Norma Rae” as the titular union organizer.  Women’s rights activists have done well in Best Actress (see Charlize Theron in 2005 for “North Country”), a category that likes to celebrate strong women.  The big concern is that she may not have the prestige to break into a tight field of five this year.

But according to most professional prognosticators, the movie’s biggest acting asset is Miranda Richardson, who plays the fiery Barbara Castle.  In the same article as reference above, Kris Tapley said this of Richardson:

“Miranda Richardson may finally nail down the Oscar win many of us have desperately wanted to see her wrangle for years.  If nothing else she’s on a clear track for a nomination.  The actress is on fire as Barbara Castle, the Labor party Baroness who bravely threw her weight behind female Ford factory workers demanding equal pay in an unfair system, and at a time when it was raging against a fierce tide to do so.  The supporting actress category is ripe for the taking this year and Richardson’s is exactly the kind of commanding, bold, yet humorous turn voters love to recognize.”

In a Best Supporting Actress category that is as unshaped as a slab of clay, Richardson could swoop down and steal the momentum – because no one else has yet!  Mo’Nique got the buzz from Sundance last year and never let go; Richardson could do the same (albeit 10 months afterwards).

There are plenty of other outside possibilities for the movie, including a potential second Best Supporting Actress bid for Rosamund Pike (which seems likely if the movie goes huge) and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Bob Hoskins (more likely than Pike, although Bill Murray for “Get Low” is more likely to take his slot).  It will be much easier to tell what we can expect in the middle of November when the movie is released; its success in awards season will rely quite a bit on the reception it receives here.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actress (Hawkins), Best Supporting Actress (Richardson)

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (Hoskins), Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Song

F.I.L.M. of the Week (May 28, 2010)

28 05 2010

I’m officially out for summer! Senior year, baby! It’s time to celebrate with the first “F.I.L.M. of the Week” of summer vacation! This calls for a comedy – something like “Mrs. Henderson Presents” ought to do the trick. Starring the always incredible Judi Dench in her third of four Oscar-nominated performances of the ’00s, the movie tells the story of a widow with nothing to do but create a stir. Set against the backdrop of British boys going to fight in World War II, director Stephen Frears provides some drama if you’re looking for a little of that as well.

The movie opens with the funeral of Mr. Henderson, where his widow (Dench) is dealing more with boredom than grief. She scoffs at the idea that she should stop her life to observe a period of mourning. After trying her hand at the conventional hobbies of older women, she discovers she needs to be entertained in more lively and energetic ways. Along with the help of Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins), Mrs. Henderson opens a theater that revolutionizes the business in London first by presenting their shows non-stop.

But the second way is what the movie concerns itself with the most, and that was Mrs. Henderson’s bold decision to present nude girls in the show.  Using some skillful connections associated with her status, she gets permission to let the clothes come off as long as it remains art – which means that the girls had to be in tableaus when exposed.  It’s clear that Mrs. Henderson has a reason behind doing this other than making money or creating controversy, both of which she manages to do anyways.  The reason becomes more clear as the crowd that packs her theater becomes less of the musical theater group and more young men, most of whom are heading off to fight a war.

“Mrs. Henderson Presents” is one of those gems that does have something to offer pretty much everyone.  It’s well-made, well-acted, and very entertaining.  It has great vaudevillian music and some spectacularly choreographed sequences on the stage.  Dench is funny and poignant as the outrageous Mrs. Henderson, and she and Bob Hoskins mix very well.  As foes, foils, and friends, they play every scene with the right energy.  Not to mention, this movie isn’t sore on the eyes (if you get what I’m saying).