Review by Sean Boelman
Women Talking has what is perhaps the most potential of any film this year, with a powerhouse ensemble, a fantastic director, and brilliant source material to pull from. While the movie certainly isn’t bad, there are a lot of aspects here that don’t live up to the talent behind and in front of the camera.
The film follows a group of women from an isolated religious community who must get together to decide if they should leave their homes or stay and fight against the men of the colony. It’s based on the book by Miriam Toews, itself a fictional work inspired by a true story, giving it plenty to work with.
The biggest shortcoming of the movie is that it is much weaker in exploring its themes than the source material was. Whereas the book was a searing indictment of the patriarchy, the movie explores these ideas in a somewhat shallow way, adding little to the conversation that other films haven’t said better. Granted, condensing the book into a movie that’s less than two hours long led to some significant abridging.
A point of significant contention has been the film’s very muted color palette, which was a purposeful and extremely daring choice by Polley. It’s meant to represent the moral complexity of the issue at hand, and it does a great job of doing that; however, it will also understandably be off-putting to some audiences.
Of course, the biggest strength of this movie is its ensemble. The three heavy-hitters in the cast — Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, and Jessie Buckley — all do a great job in their roles. Foy, in particular, offers an interesting interpretation of the character from the book, bringing the anger and ferocity while also adding a great deal of nuance.
However, there are also some cast members that feel rather underutilized. Ben Whishaw is perfectly cast in his role, but his part has been cut down significantly from the character’s role in the book. Frances McDormand also feels wasted in a minuscule role that feels more like a show of support for the film than anything else.
That said, the absolute biggest strength of the movie is the dynamic between the different characters. It’s the community as a whole that really made the book work, and that is also the case here. Even though there are some individual weak links in the cast, the ensemble as a whole is quite good.
Women Talking is certainly a solid film, largely thanks to strong direction from Sarah Polley and an all-around excellent ensemble. Unfortunately, the movie can’t escape the feeling of being like a SparksNotes version of the source material, but there are plenty of good things here nonetheless.
Women Talking screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 8-18.