Thursday, September 28, 2017


by Lexy Van Dyke
The lack of women directors is truly heartbreaking.

There seems to be a new statistic every week of how there is a drastic lack of diversity in filmmaking. As a woman who is interested in cinema, you can sense when a woman has had a hand in the filmmaking process. But we all know there are not enough of these voices, and even fewer of these voices that receive recognition. It seems every time there is an indie film with a male director that makes a splash, he is handed bigger and bigger films to direct. Citing the obvious examples of the summer: Patty Jenkins works in this industry for years after Monster and then finally helms a big picture like Wonder Woman while Colin Trevorrow was handed not one, but two big franchises after a small movie with big buzz. It’s a systemic problem that I am unlikely to unravel with one column or discussion, but these discussions should be had and the columns written anyway.

There was a film that popped up on Netflix when it had just started. Back then, Netflix couldn’t be picky so it grabbed all the titles it could. Good Dick seemed to be one of those films. It’s a 2008 film directed and written by actress Marianna Palka. It feels like a first-time director’s movie stylistically, though there is a strong story that she wants to tell in the film’s quick runtime (clocking in at just under 90 minutes) First time directors can sometimes have too much to say once they have the opportunity to speak, but here the idea is succinct and clear. Palka’s story is that of finding love and how people start to heal after trauma.
Palka jumps in quickly; she plays someone known as “The Woman” who drives to her local video store. She has created a character that is very unfeminine in archetypical ways: she dresses in oversized clothes with no makeup and unwashed hair. Palka goes to this video store to only rent soft-core porn. The video store clerk (aka “the Man”), played by Jason Ritter, tries to interact with her about her film choices. Ritter is not the only one there; the video store has about four male employees who are sitting around talking. The other male employees notice her only in a passing glance, while Ritter tries to talk with her about her film choices. Palka is not interested in this discussion. This kicks off their relationship as rebuffer and advancer. This relationship -- her being the rebuffer, him the advancer -- is the backbone of the film. What we don’t know until the end of the movie is that Palka has suffered abuse by her father, played by Tom Arnold. It is not openly stated but it insinuated that it is sexual abuse. He is taking care of her financially in exchange for her silence. This abuse is not what the movie is interested in, but rather the healing quest that this character goes on. It is a strong topic that Palka is tackling. I don’t know if she has suffered abuse or just wanted to bring attention to this topic; in either case, the character’s abuse has made her unable to connect with others and she has completely retreated into her own space.

Ritter then finds her home information from the video store and tracks her down. This is definitely a “problematic” part of the film. Watching it at this time, when we have so many stories coming to light about male predatory behavior, it does feel slightly icky. We see him track her down after she had rented softcore porn from his video store. As he approaches her multiple times at her apartment, he lies about having an aunt in the same building. These are all behaviors that should be raising red flags about this character. I have to believe that it’s Ritter’s genuine nature that allows this dynamic to work. It’s hard to use an actor’s charm as defense to predatory behavior, since that excuse has been used too many times, but Ritter’s actions toward Palka are distinctly un-predatory. The way he goes about finding her may be awkward, but none of the actions he takes against Palka’s presence are cruel. From the beginning, we see that Palka’s not afraid to of this stranger and Ritter is not going to overpower her physically. This power structure is automatic once he enters her apartment and she senses Ritter’s disinterest to physically harm her.
Palka plays against Ritter’s interest in a provoking way. She doesn’t understand Ritter’s interest in her and is aggressive toward his entrance into her life. He shows interest in softcore porn, although not in a sexual manner. They watch the films together as observers and not something to get off to. There is always a physical distance between them and Ritter doesn’t push it any further than Palka would be comfortable with. They create a completely non-physical relationship from completely sexual common interest. Palka is extremely aggressive towards Ritter if he doesn’t act completely submissive towards her. She is exerting power in an extreme way to push him away at any small indiscretion against her. A high wire act is created where Ritter is trying to stay on her good side and not be completely knocked out of her life.

It is revealed through small snippets that Ritter is living in his car. There seems to be nothing suspicious about it until a discussion with Ritter’s co-worker, played by Eric Edelstein, that reveals he is an ex-addict. This film is very good at giving the viewer just enough information. Another film-maker might give us a whole side arc where these two characters go through a journey to be friends again. Ritter’s past addiction shows he is also damaged and sees another lost soul in Palka. It explains his desperate need to submit to her every whim. He has found a home with Palka and believes that if he keeps holding on, the love will grow. Palka is interested him as well; otherwise, she would just call the police and throw him out.

When things start to progress towards a more sexual relationship with pressure by Ritter, it prompts Palka to lash out against him one last time. She is not ready for their relationship to go to that place and Ritter is frustrated because he doesn’t know her past. This is a slightly frustrating, yet realistic, part of the film. We understand why these two people would connect, but why would they not communicate their pasts? Movie knowledge would expect them to let it all out in a big monologue. Realistically, people may not be ready to discuss their trauma with someone they are in a new relationship with, especially when that emotional injury has led to such distinct and deep scars.
They break up and we see them lead their lives for a bit. Ritter continues at the video store and Palka takes the small growth she’s gained and gets a job where she can support herself. Almost the last scene in the film is her confrontation with her father. Palka gets completely dressed up and remade to meet with him. This is her stand against him in which she is finally dissociating herself from her abuser. Arnold goes from being simply antagonistic to cruel as Palka says she doesn’t need his support anymore. He actually plays this scene very well and it is a effective at showing their dynamic. Palka shows the strength that is gained from finally finding the light at the other side of abuse. After this interaction, she finds Ritter at the video store and they look at each other and they exchange words we can’t hear.

This film may seem like a very simplistic way of looking at healing and is not reflective of every person’s arc to recovering from emotional trauma. What Palka does in this movie is show how simple human connection can help people start to make those steps. She handles these serious subjects with a sense of respect and reality with which survivors may connect. These are the kinds of stories that we need more of and that we should support, in order to create a positive environment for every kind of person. I would watch another film by Palka and am going to seek more out. Let us all look out for strong voices in the small but growing canon of female directors.


  1. what, you mean sexism is not over since a woman directed a superhero movie?

    joking aside, that sound like an interesting movie. i like Jason Ritter as an actor. and i saw Marianna Palka in Glow, but i barelly remember her because her role was so small.

    i'll be watching this movie soon i think.

  2. Thanks for the great article. I remember liking this one - the pacing and how unromantic it was. A small movie but well done and interesting. I'm delighted to find out it was directed by a lady.