In the April 2nd issue of The New Yorker, Anthony Lane reviewed Lola Kirke’s new Hollywood noir flick Gemini. He laid out the basic plot, and compared it to those of other stories. And then, in the final paragraph, he talks about Kirke’s character:
The role is hardly flattering; most of the time, she wears big jeans and a baggy gray top, while sporting the haircut from hell—brown bangs cut straight across, as if by a six-year-old with blunt scissors. At one point, in need of camouflage, she dyes the tresses blond but keeps the style. Talk about unsane. Kirke, however, who made such an impact, in “Mistress America” (2015), requires no disguise; she is sphinxlike enough as it is. The cracking of the mystery, at the conclusion of “Gemini,” is daft and unsatisfying, but no matter. The case of Lola Kirke remains unsolved.
It seems Kirke herself was less than pleased with his summation of her role. She was so displeased, in fact, that she submitted a short & sweet letter to the editor about it!
This letter to the editor Lola Kirke sent The New Yorker had me pumping my fist and cheering out loud pic.twitter.com/V4vuN66NcD— Ester Bloom (@shorterstory) April 18, 2018
And look — she’s not wrong. We DO need to “see female characters be powerful and beautiful in ways that don’t rely on outdated representations of women.” Rather than discussing the substance of her actual performance, Lane talked about the way her character looked — and worse, conflated her costuming being unflattering with THE ROLE being unflattering, as though the summation of her character came down to what she had in her closet. And even though he ends his review with the more glowing mention of Kirke’s previous work, he’s bemoaning the fact that she doesn’t need disguising. Even calling her “sphinxlike” is more an observation of her look than her talent. Apparently he wishes she just could have looked pretty.
It’s kind of a mess, and he deserves some serious side-eye. Don’t get me wrong.
But here’s the thing: costumes are a part of movies. There are whole departments dedicated to dressing actors. People win Oscars for that shit. Discussing how any actor is dressed onscreen isn’t off the table when discussing a film’s merits. It wasn’t so long ago we were discussing the distractingly revealing wardrobe choices applied to Diana Prince in Justice League. Where Lane went wrong was to not connect his criticism of her character’s wardrobe to any sort of filmic choice on the part of the cast or crew. Why no speculation about the motivations behind her character choosing to wear those less-than-tight clothes? Why no discussion of her character’s personality, or mention of Kirke’s actual acting in the part? Why is her whole character deemed unflattering — not because of the script, or her behavior onscreen — but because of some baggy clothes and a bad haircut? She’s the lead fucking character! There HAD to be more to talk about there, and his job as a critic is to do so. Hell, Lane managed to say more substantive shit about an old Humphrey Bogart performance in a throwaway line in the same fucking paragraph, so its not like he’s incapable of evaluating performance choices.
We’ve talked before about the dangers of creators wading in to respond to critics, and to her credit Kirke treads the line carefully with her powerfully succinct response. However, I can’t help but think that she too missed the point a bit. Sure, Lane’s underlying misogyny is a clear and infuriating factor in that review. But the problem isn’t just that he might prefer “heroines in more tight-fitting clothes,” as she put it. The problem is that he didn’t do his job very well. The problem is that review was fucking garbage.