I’m not sure why I’ve been going around for years with the impression that The Handmaid’s Tale was a movie I needed to see. Maybe I was confusing it with the book (which I can guarantee I won’t be reading), or because I had a crush on Natasha Richardson. Whatever the reason, the damage is done now. I rented it and watched it, more to get it out of my queue than any real desire to see it.
Rain suggested that if you watch it as a comedy, it’s hilarious. I wouldn’t go that far. While there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, there was too much dead time.
The way I got through it was by imagining what it was like watching the dailies for each scene as the movie was being made. I pictured a militant feminist producer (I’m thinking Rachel Dratch’s character from “30 Rock”) sitting in the screening room, smoking a big stogie and wearing a “US Out of My Uterus” T-shirt. Her crew — assembled in equal parts from the makers of Sci Fi channel original movies and Cinemax softcore porn — would watch in anticipation for her reaction. After each scene she’d sit and think a moment, then start doing the golf clap that builds in intensity as she barks in a husky, Amy Ray voice, “Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”
(It’s also kind of amusing to imagine that it was made by the Trinity Broadcasting Network as a Left Behind-style cautionary tale, and they just can’t understand why people are interpreting it as satire of a dystopian future.)
Seriously, The Handmaid’s Tale is even less subtle than a Michael Moore movie. The message is pounded into you so hard and so clumsily you feel like you should be watching the movie wearing a red veil and lying in Faye Dunaway’s lap. (Which, coincidentally, is how I was watching the movie.)
Even though I didn’t expect to like it, I was still trying to be halfway receptive to the message, seeing as how I’m mostly liberal and all. But it was like riding a bucking bronco, the movie was trying so hard to lose me. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment they lost me for good, but it came down to one of four scenes:
- Natasha Richardson’s reaction to Robert Duvall’s suggestion that they play Scrabble. She actually rolls her eyes, sitcom style. I expected her to do the Wilma Flintstone double-take, complete with accompanying sound effect.
- When they go to the racy nightclub, and a cheerleading squad is dancing to a Fine Young Cannibals song. It was just comically dated and gross. Even Eyes Wide Shut did a better job suggesting a sexy, decadent party.
- When Elizabeth McGovern’s character explains that they cut off (or just ruined? it was hard to tell) her hands because you don’t need hands for her job, as a sex worker. I’ll repeat that: don’t need your hands, as a sex worker.
- When the heroine of our strong-woman feminist tale goes absolutely apeshit when she hears she’ll have to leave without her f-buddy, I mean the man she loves deeply after talking to for about 10 minutes and having arranged sex with.
The unsettling part is that we’re actually closer to a real theocracy in America than we were in the Thatcher/Reagan years in which the book was published, and still the movie seems completely ludicrous.