Why I Hate Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

People joke that I can never review movies or concerts or shows–even though I go to a lot of them–because I like everything.

And they are right.

I don’t generally have negative things to say–if anything–I love it all! Every song is my new favorite and every movie is the best I’ve seen.

I say this just to lay the foundation that I’m not a hater.

But I’ve been wanting to write this post for almost two months and haven’t because every time I start thinking about it, my blood pressure soars and I become completely filled with rage.

In fact–mentioning this movie to me has become something of a pastime to friends and family who want to torment me. (yes, that’s a hobby, especially with family members.)

Because I hate this movie with the white hot energy of a thousand suns.

I hated this movie approximately 5 minutes in–and it’s been a huge source of angst ever since.

Let me first say–I saw it in early December prior to any award shows or hype. At least if there was any–I missed it.

I didn’t know anything about the movie aside from it starring Frances McDormand, who I love, like everyone else and that it was about a woman who put up three billboards to avenge the death of her daughter.

Done. That’s what I knew going in.

And then the movie happened.

I was so incensed, I immediately hopped online to see what people thought of it.

The last time I didn’t like a movie was Girl on the Train. I came home and gave a mini rant about it–and Matt asked–is it supposed to be good?

A quick Rotten Tomatoes check showed–no–no one liked that movie.

Phew. All felt right in the world.

But this time around–I felt alone.

People I love like Ann Hornaday gave it a glowing review.

It’s still holding a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

I listened to Tom and Lorenzo talk about a movie on their podcast I WISHED I had seen.

My anger mounted–which I didn’t think was possible.

(both have walked back their reviews.)

And then–the award shows. I missed the Golden Globes because I was in rehearsals for my next show (get your tickets now! )

But I knew it wasn’t good because my phone had a million texts after sending condolences.

Word got out that I hate this movie–mostly by me–so people have been seeking me out to find out why I hate it so much.

Because they loved it. They can’t understand why I don’t share their enthusiasm for this movie.

 

So let me tell you all now–collectively–why I hate Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

(If you want to see it–stop now. This is going to be all spoilers, all the time.)

1. The movie is not about Frances Mcdormand or her dead daughter–it’s about the poor misunderstood white guys.

The movie forgets what it’s supposed to be about almost immediately–the rape and murder and burned body of a 17 year old girl and her mother’s fight for justice.

Frances McDormand’s Mildred takes out the billboards to set up a film that is never realized. The opening scene of the billboards signify the only moment the movie was ever really about the dead girl.

Because guess what–these billboards hurt the police chief’s feelings–and immediately, the movie shifts its focus on two middle aged white men. And that’s where it stays.

Woody Harrelson plays Chief William Willoughby all “aw shucks, ma’am, aren’t I just the most charming guy you’ve ever met? why would i intentionally  not solve this crime?”

Which could be cute, but there’s one problem, he has hired and protected Sam Rockwell’s Officer Dixon, who can only be described as mentally challenged, at best or a racist, man child who incomprehensibly not only HAS a job at the police station but STILL has a job after notoriously beating the town’s African American population for sport, at it’s most likely.

But golly gee, isn’t it sweet of Chief Willoughby to give this racist remix of Barney Fife a shot.

Oh–and one more thing–Chief Willoughby secretly has cancer. Secretly in that everyone knows he has cancer because its a small town, but he doesn’t know they know.

So sorry I couldn’t work on your case–I’ve been heroically battling cancer–you just didn’t know it because I didn’t tell you.

And that’s basically the first quarter of the movie. At which point I asked myself “Why are we even talking about these guys? Where is Frances Mcdormand?”

To start the second act–Chief Willoughby kills himself because cancer is hard on his family–more on this later–and the focus goes on Officer Dixon.

Because Mildred put up the billboards right before Chief Willoughby commits suicide, everyone believes she is responsible for her death.

Act Two is Mildred, who had unfortunate timing to question the police department’s investigative skills, as a villain. She behaves erratically and seems really angry. Just another lady losing her mind.

Sure, her daughter’s dead, but so is the beloved police chief! Advantage: man.

Chief Willoughby leaves his best bud, Officer Dixon a letter saying he can become the detective he always wanted IF he can find love in his heart (aka basically stop terrorizing black people.)

Act three questions: Will this degenerate who should be in prison find the love in his heart to become a detective?

My answer: Who cares?

But that’s the rest of the movie. Instead of a redemption tale for a mother and her daughter, it turns into a redemption for a middle aged white racist cop.

And the women of the movie are used only to further the narrative of the men.

There is no female empowerment. There is no women taking charge.

There’s just Frances McDormand using everything she’s got to pull the movie back to her and every force working against her to make sure it never does.

2. For a movie billed as female empowerment personified, it sure hates women.

Here are the women in the movie and here’s how they are portrayed:

Mildred Hayes, overreacting psycho who’s lost her mind since the rape and murder of her 17 year old daughter who now does crazy things like renting out billboards, stabbing dentists, insulting priests, kicking kids in the crotch (see #3), throwing Molotov cocktails at the police station and allowing her ex-husband into her home where he holds her up against a wall by her neck threatening to kill her with a knife in his hand, but she inexplicably sits at the table holding his hand to comfort him moments later. Because that’s what ladies do. She will also forgive poor Officer Dixon because…um…because she sees him for what his is, just a poor, misguided white man who didn’t know how to love. Yeah. That’s it. *shakes head*

Denise, she’s Mildred’s BFF and owns a shop in town. But she’s gonna have to go to jail–because she’s black and Officer Dixon wants to punish Mildred by locking up her friend–and it’s easy to do this because she has priors for smoking marijuana, because did I mention she’s black? And all black people smoke marijuana, right? Oh yeah–and after she reappears for an undetermined amount of time from jail, she immediately makes eyes at a guy putting up the new set of billboards because he’s also black and they are obviously horny being the only black characters in the movie that takes place in a small town but they don’t know each other. *WHAT?!!!*

Anne, Chief Willoughby’s Australian wife is such a fragile soul, her husband has to kill himself because she can’t handle watching him get sick and would be better off to just be a widower with two small children instead–at least that’s what her lovely husband tells her in his suicide note. But he’s kind enough to have sex with her before he offs himself because she’s really into his penis. She can’t stop telling us how big it is! Aw! Also–she apparently wasn’t allowed out of her house because in the small town where her husband is a celebrity, no one knows who she is–even with her accent!–and that can only mean she was too stupid to be allowed into the hurtful world around her. Luckily, she had her husband to protect her. *insert eye roll*

Chief Willouhby’s daughters are just so cute and small and they really love stuffed animals. So their dad takes them to the lake for a teddy bear picnic because he’s gonna shoot himself later that night and knows they just need that one happy memory to last a lifetime because girls love their daddies and stuffed animals. *gag*

Pam, she works at the agency with the billboards. Officer Dixon punches her in the face when he finds out Chief Willoughby is dead because why not?! Isn’t violence against women hilarious?!

Penelope, the current girlfriend of Mildred’s ex-husband is so stupid. How stupid is she? She’s so stupid, she works at a zoo and smells like poo. Because why would you have to be smart to work with animals? Oh–also–she’s so dumb, she doesn’t know the difference between polo and polio–even though she has a new job working at a therapy horse ranch. But she’s a girl AND she’s blond so… *insert hilarious laughter into frustrated sobbing*

Angela Hayes, the raped and murdered daughter who–let’s be honest–probably had it coming to her since the only time we see her is in a flashback to the night she was murdered where she’s wearing a really short skirt and tank top and tells her mom that she hopes she gets raped that night and her mom agrees. Also–she had asked to live with her abusive dad because her mom is just the worst–and if only she would’ve been living with a man she’d be alive today.  *punches fist through wall*

Momma Dixon, she’s a mean, old, ugly racist and mother to Officer Dixon. How did he ever have a chance with her as his mom? He didn’t. He knows it. We know it. She probably knows it, too.

I hate this movie.

3. Tonight, the role of the man will be played by a woman or how this movie knows nothing about women and doesn’t care.

Frances Mcdormand’s character, Mildred does one “crazy” thing after another–starting with the procurement of the billboards.

But her daughter is dead so it could be understandable. But…

Wait–have I gotten this far and failed to mention this movie is billed as a “dark comedy?”

Oh right. Yes–this movie is a comedy–or as Rotten Tomatoes bills it: “THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is a darkly comic drama.”

Do I have to actually say that there’s nothing funny about the rape and murder and burned body of a 17 year old girl?

What’s so funny about it, you might ask? Well, it’s that wacky, grieving mother!

Her actions are used as comic relief. You can almost hear “you so crazy!” hollered at the end of each scene she’s in.

And God bless her, Francess McDormand plays each scene with the severity it deserves, almost unaware of the movie she’s being edited into.

It’s all horrible, but there is one scene in particular that was so offense to me it had me in tears. And it’s one most men who defend this movie to me can’t even remember happened.

Mildred drives her son to school. Her son just had a monologue about how forgotten he is with the death of his sister and how hard it is for him at school (another the absurd number of poor me white guy moments.)

Mildred has just been blamed for the chief’s suicide and is now transitioning into the movie’s villain.

She pulls up to the high school to drop her son off and a student throws food at the windshield of her car.

Mildred gets out of the car and kicks the student in the groin. And then another kid. And then–she kicks a girl who’s just standing there, also in the groin.

This is a woman who has dealt with the death of her daughter, an ineffectual police department, an abusive relationship with her ex-husband and the wrongful imprisonment of her best friend, but food being thrown at her windshield sets her off so hard she does something women only tend to do in a moment of self defense against a man, she kicks another woman in the groin.

But isn’t it funny to see her kicking kids in the crotch. No? No.

4. The movie is lazy and uses your prejudice against rural America to justify it.

Small towns and rural America make easy and convenient punching bags. It’s Trump’s America. It can be racist and angry and terrible. And it’s not far-reaching to think police forces operate with a completely different set of rules than its citizenry. With a film set in Missouri, it’s not hard to be reminded of how true this can be.

But this movie might as well be  in Stars Hollow. The set looks like Lorelei and Rory are gonna walk through at any moment. It’s jarring and weird.

You never know really where this is taking place both in location–aside from the title–and time period. There are cell phones but the police department doesn’t have computers.

I could go off on how liberal America is a main contributor to the divide between people rural and urban areas–and I am liberal America. Being from a small town and still being pretty connected to rural areas, I understand how people feel forgotten or ignored and want to do big moves like elect a clown as President to try and make someone hear them. I don’t agree with it, but I get it.

But movies like this use liberal shorthand as a way to excuse lazy film making. You know who loves this movie: liberals.

Because it affirms what they (we) want to believe, that people from small towns are stupid and inherently racist and white men are just angry and in need a little love.

As a man I really like said to me about why he really enjoyed this film: it shows how a small act of kindness can really change someone’s heart.

*sigh* Don’t we all want to believe this is true? But isn’t this also just a really naive sentiment that ignores all the tough stuff like poverty, lack of mobility, education gaps and years and years of institutional practices designed to keep people in their place?

Ugh. Like I said–I can go on and on about this–and seriously, this is going to be longer than any term paper I wrote in college.

But here’s just two examples of total disregard for what it means to live in a small town.

The first is one I’ve mentioned a bit earlier–supposedly everyone knows each other in Ebbing–enough to know Officer Dixon is an angry white man who likes to beat up African Americans and there’s a lot of misdirection to make you think he might’ve killed the daughter.

And everyone loves Chief Willoughby. Yet no one knows his wife. Even though she has an Australian accent.

True story, in Phillips (pop. 1,500), where I’m from, one of my friend’s had a mom with a British accent. Everyone knew this. “You know Mike–the one who’s mom is from England.” I honestly know nothing else about her except that she had an accent. Because everyone knew it.

Yet she shows up at Mildred’s work and Mildred has no idea who she is. Even though her focus has been all things Chief Willoughby. Apparently, his wife is such a non-entity no one pays any attention to her. (something that would NEVER happen in a small town.)

But this is a minor offense in the grand scheme of this terrible movie.

What is completely unforgivable is a scene toward the end of the movie where Office Dixon is put in the hospital because he was burned escaping the police station Mildred blew up.

Because the town is so small–a burn victim has to share a hospital room with a man suffering from broken bones and lacerations stemming from a fall out of a two story window.

How did the victim fall out of the window? Office Dixon threw him out of window because he sold Mildred the billboards.

So this completely false moment is constructed just so the sales guy can show Officer Dixon kindness, by sharing his juice with him.

Yup. His juice.

And here is a big problem with this movie–well meaning people are seeing it and forgiving all it’s offenses because they want to believe in this made up premise–if we were all nicer to each other–or had better moms–Officer Dixon would never have been the terrorist he became. Everyone could just get along.

Setting this movie in a small town is lazy and allows it to take major issues like corrupt police office and violence against women and minorities and reduces them down to plot points with easy resolution.

Corrupt police offices can happen anywhere–and do. But if set in a big city, the viewer would see the problem as more systemic and less one man’s issue.

But both places have an Officer Dixon and he needs a whole lot more than kindness shown to him. He needs to be held accountable for his actions.

Which doesn’t happen in small towns, and doesn’t happen in major cities and definitely doesn’t happen in this movie.

Instead, Office Dixon is forgiven through small acts of kindness.

Somehow this unbelievable and unsatisfying ending is enough for people. Enough for it to win awards.

5. I’m tired of middle aged white men hijacking a woman’s story. 

When this movie ended–the first thing I said was “Who did this? I bet it’s a 40-something white guy who’s never been to a small town in his life.”

I was close.

And I feel like it’s been a lot of the same group of people telling me how great this movie is and how redemption should feel.

In fact, in my beloved Ann Hornaday’s review, she includes this statement: “In that context, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is cathartic and occasionally disappointing. Thanks to McDormand’s alert, responsive performance, Mildred’s vigilantism possesses the purifying rage of a million Dirty Harrys rolled into one ruthless, indomitable package. Which makes it all the more dubious when McDonagh trots out stereotypically young, pretty, somewhat ditsy girls for comic relief. Then there’s the inciting incident itself, a crime so heinous and hateful that Mildred’s comically outsize response feels tonally off and, frankly, not credible, especially when it comes to her attenuated relationship with her teenage son, a largely ignored character played by Lucas Hedges. If viewers can reconcile themselves with McDonagh’s universe — a far more schematic, lurid, literary-minded and perversely taboo-challenging one than our own — “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is brimming with subversive humor and deep satisfaction.”

I guess that’s the problem. And in the end, it seems like Ms. Hornaday followed her gut and kinda walked back her glowing review, too.

I can’t reconcile a woman’s grief with comedic gestures. I can’t reconcile the brutal victimization of a young girl or seemingly anyone with skin darker than our protagonist. I can’t reconcile the continual marginalization and reduction of female characters to jokes or excuses.

I don’t want to be told I don’t understand tone or subversive humor and I don’t feel like I should be defensive of my taste or standards–although I do feel that way.

I cannot find satisfaction in yet another movie that uses the degradation of women as a narrative device or set up.

So–there you go. That’s why I hate this movie.

And if you want to see female empowerment on screen, check out The Post, I Tanya (speaking of subversive humor) or Ladybird. I’ve seen all three and can recommend them with a clear conscious.

Now it’s your turn. If you made it to the end–feel free to leave your comments below.

 

 

 

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