Old Jack here watched this with Mad Maud. I’m not sure, but she may have found a way to project her mind onto a TV screen. Loosely coordinated, full of jabbering, shouting and running out of the room, essentially improvised, and like getting trapped in a packed vegan café with hippies and earnest emoters with no boundaries…that’s the feel of The M Word to the Henry Jaglom virgin. Old Jack here learnt a few things whilst sitting through this indulgent mess of a story, not least the fantastic insights of face-to-camera comments from women about the menopause, but, oh, the effort needed to get through it…
Edit out the acting and this would be a terrific, impactful short that takes the unknowing into the torments of angst, sweat, self-doubt, de-sexualisation and wrecked pride that The Change can be. Leave it complete, and the bits of story that divert from the topic are consistently irritating. Which is most of the film.
So, the story. There’s a local TV station that produces a range of weak programmes, from crap for kids to not-so-Extreme Sports. Things are going badly in ratings and in come corporate, and more than a whiff of British and American versions of The Office, to solve the problem…
And then the actors improvise.
Let that sink in before you decide to watch this. Faces you recognise from American films and TV, shed of the forces of written-character, talk at each other, around each other or through each other (with shouting; in large groups) for two solid hours.
Even Maud sighed at the one hour mark, and I’m fairly sure she thought she was projecting her thoughts as well.
There’s some kerfuffle around who gets sacked, who gets to produce a dynamic new project and who surprises the audience by pursuing a wildly improbable affair. It isn’t even that it feels like am-dram, the awfulness is in the indulgence of it. Improv is improv – leave it in the land of never-say-no theatre. In film, it’s masturbatory, well, wank.
Okay – to the good stuff. The film’s headshots are terrific – and honestly insightful. Looking into these faces is telling: worried about the loss of control, loss of desirability, destruction of their bodies, ending of their ‘you’re a woman now’ journey of periods and balanced hormones (a similar point made with deft humour between mother and daughter in I Got Life! / Aurore (2017) – if periods mean you’re a woman, what are you when they stop?). A mix of personalities express their worry, sexual reaction, mini-stories and on-the-nose grief. Nice, almost naturally, done.
Also, the computer geek has a picture of Tom Baker on his wall. Quality move, Set Dresser.
The actors are competent at their craft, albeit making it up as they go along (and you can feel the scene frameworks they must have been given to get going) betrays the balance of this collaborative art. Writers are essential.
Tanna Frederick as Moxie, documentarian and kids’ TV actor, fluctuates from creative to critic to lover to protestor to lover with the air of a stand-up needing a good script. I liked her. Michael Imperioli as corporate bad-guy and potential Moxie-lover looks like he read a script once and won’t let it go. I liked him more. Corey Feldman as the frowny, faintly scary but-then-he’s-being-spurned boyfriend gets to speechify a couple of times, but the lack of a narrative heft to his role cuts his feet from under him throughout…
If there’s a successful set of people in this, it is Moxie’s mother and aunts. The improv also reduces them, but some early input to The M Word documentary on the menopause that Moxie is putting together, plus a few scenes of the three being sisters of a certain age, gives them considerable charm. Frances Fisher (the Mum), Mary Crosby (who took out JR in a previous life….), and Eliza Roberts (the other aunt and real wife to The Hot Flashes (2013)‘s Eric of this parish) are lovely together. I just wish they had more story to tell.
So – all a bit weak, wrecked by its own form and flabby editing, The M Word has its say about women’s experience of mid-life and its physical and emotional cruelties. But only does it well when straight to camera.
If this style is for you, go for it.