Love is (not) all you need: Review of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My grandmother always used to say that love is everything. If we love enough, then everything will be alright in the end. Well, “Three BillBoards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” shoots a hole straight through that theory. This film is awash with love. A mother for her murdered daughter, a wife for a dying husband, a man for a much taller woman and a racist for his job as a policeman. They all love so hard that it hurts not only them but us, the audience, as the characters’ yearning reaches right out through the screen and pinches us hard. But everything in Ebbing Missouri is certainly not alright.

At first, the story seems so straightforward, you could write it yourself. It’s a revenge movie, where a wronged woman stands up to the patriarchy and (you expect) wins. But the tale soon twists out of our grasp until, when it does end, you have to spend a few minutes trying to work out what it was about at all.

Apart from the Sheriff’s wife (played by Abbie Cornish who seems to be in another film entirely) the performances are so vibrant that you feel every emotion with them. It’s full of sadness, even if it’s also incredibly sharp and funny too. I’m not sure how much I actually enjoyed watching it even though I laughed at things I then immediately feel uncomfortable laughing at. However, it is wonderful to see a film that is so redolent of human emotion, that isn’t neat and tidy and that when redemption comes, it isn’t at all what you expected.

Three Billboards’ recurring theme of standing up to complacent white, male dominance means it’s also a film that will be endlessly examined in the light of Trump’s presidency. It may be that it’s insistence on sticking to the messiness and complexity of real life means it’s too kind to characters whose actions are, by any standards, reprehensible. Yes, people are complex and we all know that the man who does terrible things at work can come home and love his kids. It doesn’t mean we should forgive him those terrible things. Ultimately this film is an eloquent and painful unanswered question; at no point does it suggest how we might make things better. It’s an important question to ask but don’t expect your own redemption from it.

Worth seeing of course, for the performances and the score. Or even if it’s just for Frances McDormand with her denim jumpsuit and shaved undercut, playing an absolute Renegade. People, we have a new patron saint.