I can't really think of two shows more different than Feud and 13 Reasons Why. The first is a delightfully campy and poignant musing on the fraught relationship between two iconic stars in their waning years; the second is a more traditional teen drama, albeit one that deals with the darker side of high school, like suicide, and sexual assault.
But as I was watching Paint It Black, Amber Tamblyn's moody masterpiece and directorial debut, I couldn't help but draw comparisons.
Like 13 Reasons Why, Paint It Black deals with the aftermath of a suicide — Alia Shawkat plays Josie, whose life is turned upside down when her boyfriend Michael (Rhys Wakefield) abruptly takes his own life. But the film's main dramatic tension is between Josie, and Michael's mother (Janet McTeer), a world-renowned pianist, whose moldering Echo Park mansion is straight out of What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? And while no one serves the other a rat for dinner, the relationship between these two women as they try to take ownership of their dead loved one goes back and forth between hate and love, much like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. (I mean, is there anything more Baby Jane than planting a knife in the middle of a shiny Steinway as a warning?)
But what sets Paint It Black apart, is that, at its core, it's just so distinctly women-driven — a film about women, yes, but also by a woman. (Which makes a nice sort of sense, given Tamblyn's past as one of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants squad. Once a sister, always a sister.) The result is a gorgeous and sultry L.A. noir universe that I want to crawl and live inside forever. Every single shot is so beautiful and tonally consistent that watching this movie feels like an experience, something you're drawn into, that you feel rather than observe. It's raw, unedited sadness wrapped in silk negligees and streaky mascara; despair drowned in tumblers of Scotch. The closeups on Shawkat's face show every tear, and every freckle — you can literally count her pores. It's grotesque and beautiful, but also honest.
I kept thinking: This is what women look like when they are sad. My makeup smears, my nose gets runny — but then I also get that vivid eye color that only comes from crying and that can't reproduce no matter what magic eyeliner I try.
And while the relationship between Josie and Meredith can only be described as batshit crazy, it also feels genuinely real. Tamblyn allows her characters to get intense, violent, and messy, both in their grief and their more tender moments. That's something you don't often get to see on screen.
"It's about being born again, finding yourself again, and finding out who you are as a woman, which is a tale that we so rarely get to see in contemporary film. Or if we do, it's not told truthfully," Tamblyn told Refinery29.
Ultimately, Hannah Baker never got the chance to find herself. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis spent their entire careers masking their true identities in service of crafting an image. But in Paint It Black, the dark recesses of women's emotions get to shine, for once. And it's mesmerizing.
Paint It Black hits theaters May 19.
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