Baby Jane 2019
Baby Jane Baby Jane is the simple tale of a toxic relationship between two people. Or, at least that’s what it should have been. It ends up feeling like there’s condemnation of homosexuality and feminism that flavours the director’s view of this story and its characters. I was incredibly surprised to learn a woman directed Baby Jane as it seems to genuinely dislike its female characters and what they stand for.
The lead character in the film is the beautiful, 19 year old Jonna. On a night out, she meets Piki, an older butch woman. Piki and Jonna begin a relationship. Soon after they begin, Piki convinces Jonna to engage in some light, online sex work. Piki takes pictures of Jonna to advertise their services and has Jonna sell used underwear to clients. Piki also provides phone sex to clients. This plot ultimately doesn’t lead anywhere. As their relationship develops, the cracks start to show. Piki has a panic disorder and rarely goes outside. She also maintains a close relationship with an ex which makes Jonna very jealous. Piki and Jonna also engage in some light bondage and BDSM. As the film goes on, this relationship becomes more and more unhealthy for two characters who already had a fragile mental state.
I don’t claim to know the director’s intentions, but as a viewer I was troubled by the depiction of this relationship and specfically of Piki. Especially in the first half, the film seems to singularly villainize Piki. Right from the get-go I got the feeling we weren’t supposed to like Piki because she’s older and butch whereas Jonna is a conventionally attractive, feminine young woman. Piki’s initial actions in this relationship feel like toxic masculinity given a female host. Maybe the director thought it was forward thinking to have this relationship dynamic play out with a queer couple. It’s not. Baby Jane is a great example of the age-old predatory older lesbian trope. Nothing groundbreaking here at all.
It’s also frustrating how much of the blame for this bad relationship is put on Piki because both these characters suck. Baby Jane’s core romance suffers from an extraordinary lack of communication on both ends. Piki asks Jonna to do a lot of things such as sex work and bondage with Jonna’s not enthusiastic about but does. I know this is a touchy subject, but I don’t understand why Jonna wouldn’t say say no. While there’s some power dynamic stuff at play, the film never gives a suggestion that Jonna is dependant or afraid of Piki. She’s just meek and doesn’t make her feelings known. At least Piki was communicating what she wants in this relationship. Jonna is just passive.
Despite all that these characters seem to represent, they have no depth as individuals. This is very much a movie where the characters are meant to serve an already determined plot as opposed to a film where character work informs the progression of the plot. That’s unfortunate because the plot sucks.
I sort of hated Baby Jane. The film feels too much like it’s condemning its flat, stock characters. It’s a basic plot with basic characters and little sympathy for them. Its’ admittedly fairly solid on a visual direction element though that’s not enough to save it.
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