All the elements for a splendid film about the early days of the women's rights are in place, but director Katja Von Garnier's use of distracting cinematic trickery and jarringly modern music meshes poorly with the period setting. In 1912, old-guard suffragettes Carrie Chapman Catt (Anjelica Huston) and Anna Howard Shaw (Lois Smith) reluctantly welcome...read more
All the elements for a splendid film about the early days of the women's rights are in place, but director Katja Von Garnier's use of distracting cinematic trickery and jarringly modern music meshes poorly with the period setting. In 1912, old-guard suffragettes Carrie Chapman Catt (Anjelica Huston) and Anna Howard Shaw (Lois Smith) reluctantly welcome idealistic Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O'Connor) to the cause. The dynamic pair take on the movement's Washington, D.C. chapter and garner approval with a propaganda parade led by human rights activist Inez Millholland (Julia Ormond). But the cautious-to-a-fault national committee is less pleased with the militant women, who impatiently step on politicians' toes and rile up factory workers. Even
when Alice allows herself the luxury of an affair with a widowed political cartoonist, she badgers him for help getting through to his influential newspaper's political reporters. The single-minded Alice brings in converts like Emily Leighton (Molly Parker), a senator's wife, but alienates envious Carrie, who accuses the D.C. branch of misappropriating national funds. Already unpopular as a result of their confrontational demonstrations, the suffragettes face their gravest challenge when President Wilson (Bob Gunton) leads the United States into WWI surely these restless women understand that they should put their selfish cause on the back-burner while American doughboys fight the Kaiser! Deciding that it's now or never, Paul sends her picketers to the White House, joining them on the line and, later, in jail. When Paul goes on a hunger strike, prison officials resort to brutal force feeding. After Senator Leighton (Joseph Adams) leaks the story of prisoner abuse, the press shames Wilson into reconsidering his stance: He publicly supports passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution and takes credit for granting women the right to vote. Blessed with a flawless physical production, Von Garnier distorts her epic tale with music that belongs on a Lilith Fair tour; it sometimes feels as though she and her writers conceived the fight for women's suffrage as a 1912 version of Sex and The City. Only when the anachronisms finally subside in the film's final third is the moving core is allowed to shine.
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