Can I borrow $5,000 for some billboard advertising?
I ask because I finally got around to watching the much-hyped, lauded, and presumably fondled Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and I feel the need to put up my own walls of advertising demanding to know who thought producing this cinematic abortion was a good idea.
For those of you who haven’t had the displeasure, Three Billboards is the story of a grieving mother who rents billboard space outside her small town in hopes of shaming the police into catching her murdered daughter’s killer(s).
Each billboard is emblazoned with a message:
- “Raped while dying”
- “And still no arrests?”
- “How come, Chief Willoughby?”
Yes, Chief Willoughby, how come?
The movie begins well enough, with the lead, Frances McDormand, seeking justice for her daughter. But, the movie quickly and exponentially goes awry with serious dramatic elements punctured by slapsticky gags and ham-fisted dialog, cliched characters and situations, and a real sense that the director may have filmed the movie at gunpoint.
And, when I say “ham-fisted” I mean I would have rather watched the writer eat a fistful of ham than this movie.
From the wonky and heavy-handed morality speeches the main character delivers to police officers and a pushy priest, to the absurd behavior of characters—such as the MC’s relationship with the police chief where they’re hating each other one moment and bosom buddies the next—the movie feels not at all like the dark comedy some claim it to be, and just a badly executed version of a poorly written script.
My wife and me kept looking at each other throughout the film with this “are we being punked?” look on our faces because the movie would go from dead serious one minute to a clunkily delivered piece of over-the-top writing the next.
Just imagine if, in the movie Seven, Brad Pitt suddenly began doing a Three Stooges routine, and you get the idea of how bad Three Billboards truly is.
In the end, the characters were not believable, the writing was cliched and hacky at best, and the story rolled along with all the grace of me falling down a hill while writing the sequel to Three Billboards.
I call my movie Five Billboards Outside of Giza Plateau. It’s about a frustrated wannabe novelist demanding to know what idiot thought it would be a good idea to shoot the nose off the Sphinx.
All that said, (a fine non sequitur, my boy!) watching such a failure of storytelling isn’t without its merits.
- The on-the-nose dialog reminded me to take care in how the characters in my own writing speak.
- The nonstop continuity errors—such as the MC’s children not believing she was abused by their father but the son automatically putting a knife to his dad’s throat after the father started to attack the mother—reminded me to focus on consistency in my stories.
- The eye-watering number of cliches in the movie—everyone in the south is a racist, cops are all evil, small towns are a monolith which will turn on you if you question one of their leaders, etc.—was a good lesson in diversification. People aren’t all the same, even when their skin and church and geographical location are shared.
- The best lesson of all was that strong characters are not strong because they swear or yell or drill holes in their dentist’s thumbs. Ugh. That shit really happened.
Three Billboards could have been a great movie. OK, a palatable movie.
But, as is most often the case, bad writing got in the way. And no amount of accomplished actors can save a heap of bad writing … not even Sam Rockwell’s hilarious portrayal of Snidely Whiplash.