When, in these uncertain times, we try to find peace, comfort, or perhaps even distraction in art, I want my art to feel like comfort food. Specifically, I want the artistic equivalent of mashed potatoes. Delicious? Yes. Relatively inoffensive? Indeed. Given the choice, would I eat it every day? You bet. Lately, I’ve sated my desire for comfort art through Queer Eye. It makes me believe in the good of humanity and self-love. But this isn’t about Queer Eye; I am here to talk about Seattle Grand Illusion Cinema’s virtual screening of Abner Pastoll’s thriller, A Good Woman is Hard to Find. The film seems to be born of humanity’s worst and is the antithesis of all that I want in art right now...except in one key way: it is thoroughly entertaining.
Sarah, a meek, widowed mother of two young children remains desperate for closure after the recent murder of her husband. When a drug dealer who steals cocaine from a local mob uses her house to store his ‘product,’ she uses him to find her husband’s murderer. All of this is coupled with Sarah’s strained relationship with her mother, her struggle to make financial ends meet, a perverted grocery store employee, a police force that seems altogether unconcerned with her husband’s murder, and her son, Ben, who became mute after witnessing his father’s death. The film ultimately plays like a violent iteration of the clichéd ethical dilemma: Would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your family?
Yet unfortunately, it inspires absolute disgust. The kind of disgust that makes one look away and squirm in their seat. The kind that, after a while, seems to be included in the movie simply to evoke shock and repulsion. For instance, in one grotesque moment, Sarah finds that her son has found—and consumed—the cocaine hidden in their home. In the following scene, the drug dealer, Tito, tries to rape Sarah after he finds his product the object of her child’s misplaced curiosity. In an act of desperation, Sarah stabs Tito to death, and in disposing of his body, experiments with both a saw and an axe. Of course, because the film is rife with moments intended to inspire horror, Sarah repeatedly flashes back to the night when she dismembered Tito. These gory moments became less about aiding the film’s plotline and Sarah’s character development, and more about gore for the purpose of gore.
In fact, there is very little overall character development in anyone other than Sarah, who somehow manages to transform from a submissive victim into a vengeful killer in a matter of days. Perhaps this sends the wrong message—that the woman who lost her voice has to revert to a life motivated by violence and revenge. Or, perhaps the statement lurking in the midst of the blood is that people are capable of much more than we as a society give them credit for.
Yet, Sarah is by no means the heroine of this story. Indeed, no character portrays any semblance of heroism. And, how could they? The character’s interactions are based on furthering the plot rather than revealing their own humanity, making for a lonely movie. I don’t have a problem with stories motivated by plot, as they certainly have their place in film. Yet when we are social distancing from one another and a pandemic is disrupting our lives, I want to be reminded of human connection: the stories we tell each other, whether they’re mundane or awe-inspiring. I want to see the connection born not from necessity, but from the joy that it brings us. A Good Woman is Hard to Find, while entertaining, lacks the humanity that we need during a time when it is easy to forget that the world extends far past the walls of our homes.
A Good Woman is Hard to Find screened virtually through The Grand Illusion Cinema May 8-21, 2020. For event information see here.