by Lexy Van Dyke
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.
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.
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.
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.