Film Review: Bitch

An unhappy housewife chooses a unique way to opt out of child care and housework in this polemical film about the price of maternal sacrifice in the 21st century.
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Frustrated artist Jill Hart (Marianna Palka, who also wrote and directed this) has become a shadow in her own life: Her four children—Tiffany (Brighton Sharbino), Max (Rio Mangini), Cindy (Kingston Foster) and Jed (Jason Maybaum), who range in age from teens to pre-schoolers—are slaves to tightly organized schedules of school and enriching activities, which means Jill is a slave to their schedules. And husband Bill (Jason Ritter) is a smartly dressed baby-man who just about lives at the office, the better not to deal with his unruly family. No matter how desperately the mad-housewife-in-the-making craves a little time off her fancy leash, there's no time for her to take, say, a two-week time out for a painting seminar. Jill is the rock on which the Hart family stands.

All of which changes the day she tries—and fails—to hang herself (with Bill's belt, no less): Jill is reborn as a snarling, snapping, barking bitch, crawling naked on all fours and rolling in her own excrement in the basement. She may not be a literal dog, but she's abdicated the role of supermom as definitively as it can be abdicated and everyone else—including her level-headed sister (Jaime King), who knows better than the others what Jill gave up to become what everyone else needed—just has to deal with it.

Make no mistake, Bitch is a blunt tool that dares to suggest that Mother's Day cards notwithstanding, actually being a 21st-century American mother is simultaneously fetishized and denigrated: Everyone is awed by the mother of three who also runs her own PR firm, raises funds for war orphans and looks like a Victoria's Secret model (nannies, housekeepers and serious gym time required), but being "just a mom," well, it's all in the "just." And speaking of tools, Ritter nails a particular brand of narcissism, the kind specific to a man who can lament that if he'd only been born with a smaller one, maybe all this wouldn't have happened.

Though Bitch sometimes feels more like a absurdist play than a film, U.K.-born filmmaker and actress Palka (of the acclaimed Netflix series “GLOW”) delivers an unnervingly feral performance as Jill-the-bitch, and King is a strong foil as the sister who married better...not richer, better. The film's sound design (heavy on barking dogs) and composer Morgan Z. Whirledge's weirdly jaunty score are both remarkably effective; neither is unobtrusive, but both work organically with the narrative. Bitch is not every viewer's cup of tea, but is should connect with more adventurous moviegoers.

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