There are few experiences like sitting through Marianna Palka’s violently off-beat Bitch.
What hooks with a fascinating set-up very, very quickly loses itself in some of the most frenzied and uncomfortable editing this side of a half-forgotten Taken sequel, and winds up doing nothing short of totally defecating over every last drop of its potential. It’s easily one of the most grating 90-minute indies in recent memory; a talented lead and a powerful initial by-line, totally squandered.
This isn’t to say that Palka’s ideas are anything but solid; there’s a relatively firm central push towards the meaningful here, covering everything from gendered roles in the family, to basic American perceptions of mental health.
There’s no denying that Bitch lays out an exciting concept, or that it has almost all of the necessary ingredients for making something that’s both powerful and involving on a dramatic level. The fact is that the resulting film is a total calamitous mess of awful, detestable characters, doing mostly awful, detestable things, with little-to-no hang-up until much too deep into the run-time.
Former slasher-fodder turned standard frat-boy type Jason Ritter certainly gets the best deal of the bunch, successfully cracking open a deeply troubled, philandering father and getting the closest to likeable the film will ever allow (which is still, might I add, far from it), but he’s so often skewered by Palka’s own, seriously angry script that it’s a real struggle keeping hold of him for longer than 10 minutes at a time.
Every time anyone present, whether it be Ritter, his odd blend of viciously charismatic kids, or even Palka herself as the ailing mother, even simply border on doing something an ordinary human being would do, the rug is instantly pulled away and the stupidity of the whole thing returns.
It’s a difficult pill to swallow, especially since, as Bitch ploughs on, it does become decidedly more meditative and digestible. There’s no escaping just how atrocious the first act wobbles are, but as the story and its wonky family scenarios start to open up a tiny bit more, the whole thing becomes at least understandable. It’s not good, nor is it particularly entertaining, but at least there’s a point being made.
Even for fans of the extreme and Sundance’s own unique and regular blend of oddness, Bitch is too much; a self-starving, aggressive and totally unlikeable piece of work.
Bitch was screened as part of the Sundance London Film Festival 2017.