Reconciliation and a new perspective can offer a brutal and permanent shift. When living in line with some thought, theory or belief for so long, it is harder to pull through to new enlightenment, especially when entrenched and rooted. Women Talking keeps its period elusive, its thoughts clear and its talking, well, constant. Floaty writing and an ugly, daguerreotype filter over a legion of clunky-yet-important moments. Sarah Polley imparts her thoughts as dialogue and frequently so. They blend together and create what would have been a rich and detailed fabric. Those delicate moments of worldbuilding have singular intent, and knowing that steals some of the magic it represents as a wider community.
Despite confidence flowing through the cast and the immediacy of the big-name impact, Women Talking cannot quite hold firm as an active powerhouse. Frances McDormand makes for the old hand trying to keep order against a sea of shifting doubts. What is and is not established makes for an interesting expression of faith and new ideas in a colony that can never quite shake an Amish, isolated feel. Its conflict grinds the few parties down but its explosive conclusion comes all too quickly. Within minutes, the at-odds discussion has imploded and the rest of Women Talking is talking down the white-hot rage and coming to some cheapened middle ground. Jessie Buckley is the real winner here though, despite Claire Foy’s powerhouse anger and the usually utilised presence of McDormand. Yet with all that, Women Talking cannot conjure up something more, something pointed.
It mulls over its points relatively quickly and hopes its directing focus and heartstring-pulling soundtrack will do most of the heavy lifting. It does not get that far and in its place is a feature with a good underlying story, an important one, fumbled by a watery narration that interjects every now and then for some empty conflict that comes from its 12 Angry Men setting. For a feature so confident in its dedication to independence, the irony is drawn with the inclusion and literal, literacy and power Ben Whishaw holds despite not truly knowing what is going on. Nobody can know what is going on, as Women Talking spirals and spirals away from its original point and into a metaphysical debate on the debate itself and the intention of it.
Failing to keep that all together makes for a muddled watch. What Polley lacks in interesting direction, in placing her characters in the important presence or doubtful musings, she makes up for in the simplicity that comes from focusing in on the key details. But the issue there is that Women Talking loses its key moments, it fails to discuss them in a challenging and consistent manner. It does have moments, that much is expected. Jeremy Kleiner’s involvement on the production side makes sense. He has often had a hand on movies hoping to chart an emotional conflict that instead utilise the shock value of a conversation than the actual conversation itself. There is a brutality at the core of Women Talking that will disturb and engage, but for how long the latter can hold itself up is down to the writing, which runs out of steam and thought rather quickly.