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TIFF Review: Anna Kendrick Makes Her Directorial Debut with the Dark, Multi-Tasking Woman of the Hour

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Woman of the Hour
Anna Kendrick’s Woman of the Hour (Credit: Netflix)

In 1978, Rodney Alcala appeared as a contestant on The Dating Game. What wasn’t public knowledge then was that he was a serial killer, later arrested for several murders and still suspected of having committed more than one hundred others. Actress Anna Kendrick makes an impressive directorial debut in a story that splits its time between the woman charged with choosing between the three contestant and the litany of crimes committed by Alcala, two very different angles that mostly mesh well.

Kendrick stars as Cheryl Bradshaw, an aspiring actress in 1970s Los Angeles who isn’t seeing great career returns. When her agent books her on The Dating Game, she’s hardly enthralled. Two of the men who she can’t see and who can’t see her are duds, one unable to complete a sentence and the other an unapologetic chauvinist, while contestant number three knows just what to say to prove that he’s listening and has respect for women…

The style of this film, particularly the scenes involving Alcala and his victims, is reminiscent of other serial killer fare like Zodiac and Boston Strangler. The production design by Brent Thomas is key to grounding the film in the era and giving it a washed-out look, still far more colorful and vibrant than the energy of the people within it. Costume designers Sekyiwa Wi-Afedzi and Brooke Wilcox complement the sets with outfits that add another muted layer of sterility. Editor Andy Canny has a very challenging job, basically cutting two separate films together into one and ensuring that crowded comedy blends seamlessly into isolated brutality.

Kendrick makes a self-assured debut behind the camera with a film that has thematic echoes of another vehicle she headlined at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, Alice Darling. The way in which she directs herself is particularly eye-opening, presenting a relatively resigned protagonist who doesn’t even seem that interested in her own success or happiness and then showing an entirely different side of her when she goes off-script during the taping. It’s a terrific performance that feels at once like many of her past roles and fresh in its own way.

Daniel Zovatto carefully honed the balance between creepy and charming in past projects like Station Eleven. He ensures that Alcala is able to believably blend in with those around him and evade capture for years despite a highly incriminating album of photos of women he is believed to have assaulted and killed. The front he presents to the live audience is especially indicative of someone who knows how to work the system, keen to what he needs to say in order to win trust that he fully intends on betraying.

The framing of this story contains worthwhile commentary on gender equality and the things men have been allowed to get away with, both at the time of this film’s events and in the present day. It’s a vital period piece, one that Kendrick packs with both style and food for thought. While the film’s double focus means that its narrative isn’t entirely cohesive, the strength of both parts makes for a satisfying – and deeply unnerving – experience.

Grade: B+

Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer has been the editor of MoviesWithAbe.com and TVwithAbe.com since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them. He has attended numerous film festivals including Sundance, TIFF, Tribeca, and SXSW, and was on a series of road trips across the United States with his wife, Arielle, before they moved to Los Angeles. He is a contributing writer for Above the Line, Awards Radar, AwardsWatch, Below the Line News, CinemaDailyUS.com, The Film Experience, Film Factual, and Gold Derby.
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