Marianna Palka’s newest film Bitch comes with a confrontational title and a heartwarming story. The movie is about Jill Hart, an underappreciated housewife who essentially raises four kids alone while her husband Bill works long hours and neglects the family. Meanwhile, the children seem to look up to their father while ignoring everything their mother says. It is established from the opening that Jill is unhappy and it is not long before she becomes more demonstrative.
The strength of Bitch is in its story. The title and first act may lead one to think that this will be another movie about a woman overcoming the odds to succeed in a man’s world. However as the plot advances it becomes clear that there is something deeper at work. Bill’s entire identity is comprised of his job and his possessions. It’s not Jill who has been struggling in a man’s world, but Bill who has not even attempted to live in the real world. Bill has spent his entire adult life running from responsibilities, ignoring familial duties, and putting his needs in front of everyone else’s. It’s interesting to slowly watch him come to this realization. It is not just one pep talk or epiphany that causes him to change overnight. Bill has to hit rock bottom and lose his artificial sense of self before he comes to the understanding that Jill has been keeping him afloat. This is a story of redemption, not validation. The unique premise and story that is told prop up what may initially appear to be a clichéd story.
The movie is also helped by the strong performances of Palka and Jason Ritter. Ritter is great as Bill and shows off incredible range. Ritter starts off as a horrible husband and father who is easy to hate. By the end of the movie, Ritter’s performance garners laughter, sympathy, and every emotion in between. It is a genuine performance that brings heart to the film. Palka’s performance relies more on facial expressions and physicality. Her scenes are particularly important as entire scenes (and the movie itself) hinge on her performance. Palka does a great job of conveying confusion and fear. Unfortunately, the camera tends to be in a little too close at times making for some confusing shots. (I would be remiss if I did not mention Roger Guenveur Smith as Bill’s boss, Steve, in a small, but hilarious role.)
The movie does suffer from inconsistencies, mainly in regards to the children. When they first discover their mother is now acting like a dog, it’s a source of amusement. They then transition to being concerned and question what will happen if she does not return to normal. In the next scene they are giggling and having a great time while dressed in animal costumes. This kind of inconsistency makes it hard to better understand the kids’ characters.
This is seen most in the oldest son Max. One moment he is ready to get into a physical altercation with his father, the next the two are sharing a knowing wink as the family huddles together to help their mother; later in the movie, he is apparently unconcerned that there is no food in the house, but towards the end he thinks it is incredibly important that his sister Tiffany show her report card to their dad. It is almost as if the scenes were placed into the film out of order.
The music choices are also odd at times. In particular, there is a jaunty tune shortly after the family learns of the gravity of Jill’s situation that seems more appropriate for a humorous montage than a family that is coping with the possible loss of their mother.
Bitch overcomes its few miscues and engages its audience. Not content to be another girl makes good story, this is a movie about a person picking up the pieces and fixing their life. It examines masculinity, self-worth, control and by the end, just who and what a “bitch” really is.