On my short list of favorite films from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, none have I been more excited for my friends to see than Bitch. Written and directed by Marianna Palka, Bitch takes a unique look at the damage we do to our loved ones when image, perfectionism, and indifference supersede empathy in our relationships. Neglect, the film assures us, is never benign.
I love Bitch for its heart - the manner in which it values humanity by portraying the all too common ways we intentionally and inadvertently diminish it in one another. But, Bitch has brains too, and creatively uses sound and cinematography to modulate emotional response. To that end, the film’s tonal range is noteworthy for the way it blends elements of comedy, drama, and horror to tell the tale of the destruction and the resurgence of the modern, American family.
Savvy screenwriting and sound design aside, it’s the acting that makes the film flourish. Seasoned actors all, Palka (Jill), Jason Ritter (Bill), and Jaime King (Beth) have history together and their desire to collaborate on this project is evident on screen. In a story about family, the actors’ longstanding relationships add texture and believability to a plot in which Palka’s character devolves into acting like a dog. A conceit which at first blush could seem far-fetched, but isn’t. Jill’s psychological condition has real roots. Renowned Scottish psychiatrist Dr. R.D Laing, mentioned in the film, once encountered a patient upon whom Jill’s behavior was based. His successful treatment was neither clinical nor pharmaceutical, rather a genuine determination to understand and offer care; traits Palka wove into the script and the three convincingly delivered. Ritter was named one of Paste’s 15 Best Acting Performances of Sundance 2017.
Ultimately, Bitch is a film that causes us to consider how we treat people and the positive and negative impacts our actions have whether we’re paying attention or not. It cuts into the illusion of the complete control we often think we have over our lives. And it teaches us that earnestly listening and trying to understand someone is not ordinary; it’s transformational.