‘Ammonite’ Review: Love on the Rocks

Leave a comment

Ammonite (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Shaw, Gemma Jones, James McArdle

Director: Francis Lee

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Quite Graphic Bedroom Scenes

Release Date: November 13, 2020 (Theaters)/December 4, 2020 (On Demand)

Man, if you’re into rocks AND forbidden love stories, you’re gonna love Ammonite. Me personally, I can certainly enjoy the latter, though they can be heart-wrenchingly bittersweet. As for the former, rocks definitely serve their purpose here on Earth, but I’m not particularly inclined to spend an entire day studying them. Nor am I particularly inclined to watch a movie that dedicates a good portion of itself to people doing just that. But I always aim to be open-minded, so I decided to give Ammonite a chance to see if it could win me over. Ultimately, it all went about exactly as I would have expected, with the paleontology scenes making me go, “Wow, Kate Winslet sure does enjoy studying fossils a lot more than I ever would” and the romance scenes making me go, “Wow, Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan sure do trust each other enough to get really, really explicit.”

It’s the 1840s on the Southern English coast. Winslet plays Mary Anning, who is now officially the most passionate paleontologist I’ve ever heard of. She supports herself and her mother by selling fossils to tourists, and one of those folks, geologist Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), offers her something rather unique. His wife Charlotte (Ronan) is suffering from one of those vague 19th century illnesses that result in general exhaustion, and he’s entrusted Mary to caring after her. Mary and Charlotte proceed to spend plenty of time alone, thus awakening passions that are generally not spoken about in polite British society.

Like most other recent period queer love stories I’ve encountered, the affair between Mary and Charlotte is able to thrive in a little pocket of the larger world. There’s even a hint that it could last indefinitely. So I’m fascinated that the ultimate roadblock for these two is less about society frowning upon them and more about the struggle to bridge the gap between their very different lives. Mary is so married to her work that she cannot imagine uprooting herself in any way (there’s also the matter of supporting her mother). With Ammonite so firmly foregrounded in the literal ground, it comes off as rather quotidian and even dispassionate (though certainly not shy). So in conclusion, I haven’t suddenly been inspired to start studying fossils myself, but I am still heartbroken when two star-crossed souls can’t quite make it work.

Ammonite is Recommended If You Like: Fossils, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Rocks on the beach, Walks on the beach

Grade: 3 out of 5 Rocks

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Lizzie’ Brings the Queer Subtext to the Fore in the Latest Telling of Ms. Borden’s Ax Murders

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Courtesy of Saban Films and Roadside Attractions

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Denis O’Hare, Kim Dickens

Director: Craig William Macneill

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Brutal Deadly Violence and Practical Nudity

Release Date: September 14, 2018 (Limited)

Lizzie is in some ways a throwback to an era when queer attraction was subtextual and coded and never explicitly acknowledged. Except that this time there’s a lot more nudity, which would seem to defeat the purpose, save for the fact that this lack of clothes is not about sex but rather avoiding the evidence of blood stains. Otherwise, the structure fits, as this telling of the Lizzie Borden story plays up the angle of an affair between Lizzie and her family’s housemaid without ever uttering the word “lesbian,” instead opting for whispers and implications and the occasional “abomination.”

The real Borden was accused and ultimately acquitted of ax-murdering her father and stepmother in 1892 Massachusetts. While popular perception has treated her as the no-doubt-about-it culprit, much of the case remains officially uncertain, lending fictional retellings a lot of leeway in how they approach the material. Director Craig William Macneill and screenwriter Bryce Kass choose to emphasize psychological abuse from Borden’s father Andrew that gradually wore Lizzie down to murderous intent. Chloë Sevigny plays Lizzie as a perfectly dignified and intelligent individual who cannot quite handle the cognitive dissonance of her father insisting that she in fact has no place in polite society. As Andrew, Jamey Sheridan actually finds some tender notes, but his foundation of disgust is just too implacable.

Of course mention must be made of Kristen Stewart as the Bordens’ maid, Bridget Sullivan. Most of the family call her “Maggie” instead, which might be an archaic form of discrimination I was previously unfamiliar with (any turn of the 20th Century American historians, please let me know). Her bond with Lizzie is forged a great deal by the latter making it a point to actually call Bridget “Bridget.” Alas, but unsurprisingly, their time together is not meant to last, partly because of their power differential, partly because of the fallout of co-conspiracy, but mostly because society would force them to remain a secret. Yet in the end that suppressive atmosphere is a double-edged sword: it allows Lizzie to get away with murder because her peers cannot believe that someone from such a respectable family could commit such a heinous act. If they knew her true orientation, perhaps they would have come to a different conclusion. That’s a warped sort of privilege that this version of Lizzie could never fully psychically bear.

Lizzie is Recommended If You Like: Twisty/twisted/stomach-twisting feminist narratives

Grade: 3 out of 5 Axe Chops