Right now, women in Hollywood are shaking the ground beneath them, using their collective voice to change the structures that have long kept them silent. Marianna Palka's new film BITCH is not about making massive overhauls of industries that are toxic for women, and yet, the GLOW actress' feminist film feels particularly healing.
Palka, who wrote and directed the film, also stars as Jill, an underappreciated mother whose husband Bill (Jason Ritter) spends most of his time at work or with his mistress. Jill just wants a break: She pushes to go to an art retreat and feed her soul, but Bill shuts down the idea. Jill is needed at home — as she always is.
But Jill does get the escape she's looking for — albeit in a way she hadn't planned. After dealing with another hectic day of tending to everyone else's needs, Jill's mind has had enough. Soon, Jill is growling, on all fours. She has assumed the personality of a rabid dog, and it's finally up to her family to take care of the woman who has never put herself first.
The premise might sound like something out of a Will Ferrell comedy, but while Palka's movie is certainly funny, it's also a film about so much more than the surreal premise. What does it mean for a woman to be independent, even if she's happy as a mother and wife? What duties do we have to one another in a family? How can men learn to support the women in their lives so that their partnerships are equal?
Refinery29 spoke to Palka about why her latest venture is so important for women in 2017 and what we can expect in season 2 of GLOW.
What initially inspired you to write BITCH?
"I wanted to make a film based off a [case] I heard [Scottish doctor] R.D. Laing had, about a woman who this happened to... I just wanted to really explore this idea that you don’t have to judge someone who is going through something. It’s an R.D. Laing concept: if you don’t judge someone who is going through something, but you look at things from their point of view, and you ask them what is going on, you’ll get more of an insight into how to help them.
"If someone gets sick, in a way that they are having a psychotic break, that could be something that’s not necessarily their fault, but about the situation they are put in. The environment they are in, the society, the family. That could be what’s causing it. It’s not just, ‘Oh, this person is imperfect.’ It’s this idea that you can remedy what causes it as opposed to what’s wrong with the person. There’s nothing really wrong with Jill. There’s something wrong with her marriage. She has the right instincts, she’s trying to go to an art retreat. When you push people into these corners, they are going to react."
Were there any challenges to directing yourself on camera, especially when you were portraying Jill in her dog state?
"It’s easier for me to be in a film as well as direct it. It’s one less conversation to have with an actor. It’s easier for me to perform it, rather than have the conversation with an actor who performs it. You have a say in so many different aspects of the story. It’s also possible to kind of have skin in the game, with the other people who are acting in it. The cast feels like you’re more in it with them, you’re in that gang. Sometimes they’ll take more risks, because they know you are taking those risks… We were all just being brave and inspiring one another."
Why will women, specifically, connect with this movie?
"I think that women are just going through the coolest time right now… Everything has changed. The world is a different place than it was before. The conversations that are happening are really interesting, and the back and forth about what it means to be a good person now, and what it used to mean to be a good person, I think all that stuff is really [important] to talk about.
"The movie really brings up a lot of stuff about what it means to be a good person, whether it’s being a good husband or dad or mom. It’s very pro-marriage, and it’s very conservative in the sense that it’s really pro-family, and about sticking with someone. It has all these really conservative values, even though it’s a feminist film and it’s a humanist film."
Bill goes through a big transformation in the film. Why write his journey in such a way?
"I wanted to make a movie about what it takes to be a good man. We took Bill from a terrible place to a place where he’s really a good guy, and you love him. He’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written because I think he’s very realistic. I know a lot of people who are actually that man, and that their life is breaking apart. I know people who that is happening to now. Whether it’s what’s happening in the government, or… women’s rights, men are coming into their new being and growing up. I think women have already been 'grown up' for a while.
"My favorite feminists that I know are actually men who have always been feminists… I talk to them about it, and I’m definitely more of a humanist, and I know a lot of guys who are really aggressive feminists.
"I got that BITCH was this great medicine for marriages, society… I think if Donald Trump watched BITCH, I feel like it would help! I just want to know what he would say after the movie. I’ve known people who are like him and have seen it and cried. They’ve said 'Oh, I’ve done that in my marriage,' 'I wish I could do that in my marriage,' 'That’s why my wife left me…' They’ve had these revelations.
"The way in which Jaime King is connected to Jason Ritter’s character. When I was directing them I wasn’t like 'Okay, you guys have different opinions about your loved one, go for it, go attack each other.' I was like, 'Find ways you’re connected, because you’re going to be together for the rest of your lives.' Not using swear words that are insulting, not using toxic language… I think it’s really key.
As a filmmaker, did you have any particular struggles getting this movie out in the world?
"I’ve had the craziest luck… I think I’m very open and trusting, and I know what’s meant to happen for a project will happen no matter what. I don’t worry about anything… I don’t freak out… I’m not having conversations about ‘When is the money coming for this thing?’ I don’t have the volume up on that anxiety. I have the volume up on ‘It’s fine. It’s going to work out.’
"I read this Maya Angelou quote… When good stuff happens, that’s really nice, but you don’t have to take it on. When bad things happen, that’s okay, you don’t have to take that on either. You don’t have to be defined by outside forces. A [film financier] wants to know you believe in yourself and will make their money back, and I know how to do that.
"With Good Dick, we self-released our film… and it’s been really empowering. They wrote about us in The New York Times and called it the 'Good Dick model' because at the time we were doing things that no one else was doing. That, as a concept, just gave me a sense of anchor, with my own work, knowing that I can always do whatever it is to put that movie out there. To own your own rights to your film, it’s like real estate. It goes up in value, and there are all these revenue streams… It’s different from giving that money to a distribution company. That was such an incredible gift. It’s been really great… We’ve just been able to be innovative enough to [attract] financiers with what we’re doing.
"[I went with SpectreVision] because they made this movie A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night… Elijah Wood and I had met at Sundance and he was so inspiring to me as a human. I was like, we have to do something together, because it’s going to be magical… He’s more of a feminist than I am, it’s really inspiring on that level. He has such a clear vision on the films that need to be out there, the female directors that need to be seen and heard and hired more. He wants everybody to do studio movies. I just feel like we’re in such an incredible time because the studio films that [women directors] are going to be doing? It’s incredible. It’s not going to stop."
You portrayed Reggie on Netflix's GLOW. What can you tease about season 2?
"We’re shooting it right now. As wrestlers, we wrestle trained for a month before each season… We do a lot of our own stunts. It’s a super intense situation, because we could die wrestling with each other! [Laughs] So it’s really bonded us. That process of doing season 1, was really a next-level experience. I would lay down in traffic for any of those women, I love them all so much. When you wrestle someone, it’s really this gift of being able to look after someone and keep them safe but be aggressive when you have to be. If you’re 99% instead of 100%, you could like, break their neck. It’s like when you do a movie: You have to commit, or you’re going to lose.
"Our wrestling instructor, Chavo Guerrero, has won all these awards and matches. We got in the ring [after eight months] and we were [worrried] we would have 'ring rust,' which is what they call it… But we were better wrestlers than we were last year. We were more advanced, all of us. We all went home and were like 'Oh shit, season 2 is going to be so good!' We just started going for it. The characters are so empowered by wrestling and we, as women, are so empowered by being on the show, so there are these meta things happening… There’s so much about taking on your power, or accepting your height, or like accepting your greatness. [Chavo] is very healing on that level.
"Season 2 is going to be insane. My character goes through so much. I wish I could tell you what happens because it’s so crazy! Reggie is so intense. That character is very strong, she’s a stronger person, she’s a physically stronger woman… She has this charge of herself.
"I can’t say enough about that show or the people I work on it with. Those actresses are like my sisters now. We’re in this really great dialogue about making the best TV right now. My mom is like 'Oh my God, it’s like women empowered in the mainstream… I thought it would happen in your lifetime, but I didn’t know it would happen so soon.' To have that be in the mainstream, with Wonder Woman and with GLOW, those two things are so profound… We’re doing the work of it. With BITCH, I feel like we’re doing the grunt work. We’re using the term 'bitch' in a subversive way. We don’t need to use that word in an [insulting way] any more."
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