Thursday, December 03, 2020

Review: Ammonite

Let me just put it all out there: “Ammonite” is the lesbian prestige period piece that FUCKS.

The film starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan is ostensibly a semi-historical romance set in 1840s England about two women who fall in love while searching for fossils along the unforgiving southern seashore. Yes, it’s “Portrait of a Lady with Fossils” mixed with “Carol for Rocks,” sorta.

Indeed, “Ammonite” is about stones. Stones in the literal sense that they unearth bearing the shape of creatures long lost to time, and the stones we can fill our hearts with or that can stubbornly block us from our true passions.

While “Ammonite” may have much in common with our recent slate of lesbian and queer-themed films about women (often period pieces, often filled with long scenes of moody gazing), the movie’s male writer-director has decided gritty and unrelenting realism was his best chance at standing out.

So the second thing you should know about “Ammonite” is that the tone remains resolutely grim through much of the picture. Like, I’m not sure if Kate cracks more than three smiles as stoic and steadfast paleontologist Mary Anning. Her real-life character was a famed fossil hunter. In the film, she is apparently past her major discoveries prime and now sells what she finds as trinkets for tourists in her coastal town.

She meets Saoirse’s Charlotte (whose husband has dumped her with Mary because of some kind of diagnosed hysterical rich lady problems, but what I believe is an undiagnosed case of post-partum depression and unrealized lesbianism) who reluctantly comes to walk the rocky beaches with her in search of even more rocks.

Now, you’d think long walks on the beach would be the perfect setting for romance. I mean, the waves crashing! The dresses billowing in the wind! But, “Ammonite” telegraphs its serious intentions by focusing on the harshness instead of the beauty. Shit is dour, man. Stuff is grimy. Life is drab. Also, the second you see a boiled egg being cracked open look away for a bit. Trust me, it’s not pretty and that’s the point.

But, and here’s the biggest “but” perhaps ever, all this grim and grimy determination is interspersed with moments of almost spastic yet entirely believable desire. You know that sex scene everyone is talking about? Believe me, you won’t miss it. I can honestly say it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in mainstream lesbian movies, especially mainstream lesbian movies brimming with A-list stars. And unlike some of those other much-talked-about lesbian sex scenes of late (“Blue is the Warmest Color” and “Disobedience” come to mind), this one totally passes the Lesbo Street Cred test – if you know what I mean.

Also, it’s not unhot.

[SPOILERS FOLLOW, COME BACK AFTER THE NEXT ALL-CAPS, BOLDED BRACKET]

Right, so that scene? Well, OK, I’m just going to say it. Saoirse Ronan sits on Kate Winslet’s face. Yes, you read that correctly. If you’ve ever wanted to see an Academy Award-nominated actress climb onto an Academy Award-winning actress’s face like a little spider monkey and then proceed to ride it to nirvana, this is the movie for you. And, you know what, I ain’t mad about it. Not one little bit. I may have rewatched it, um, for scientific arts criticism purposes. What? I’m only human, OK?

[SPOILERS OVER, YOU CAN COME BACK NOW]

The film also features what may be the earliest historical presentation of lesbian U-Hauling I’ve ever seen. For those still harboring a crush on Kate since her “Titanic” days, it will come full circle as she draws another woman like one of her French girls. Saoirse and Kate squeeze as much chemistry as they can in brief, meaningful glances over cold, dispassionate rocks.

“Ammonite” is a very good film, if not a particularly joyful one. Most of its festive moments (not to mention most colorful ones, in the figurative and literal senses) involve brief encounters with Mary’s upper-crust ex, as played by the always magnificent Fiona Shaw. Otherwise, it seems like the movie goes out of its way to make Kate look as unglamorous as possible – which is fine. Not everyone is Carol Aird. But, we get it, she’s working class and work is hard – especially for women working in a man’s world.

I’ve sometimes grumbled about the trend of lesbian prestige period pieces. Sure, lesbians lived in the past when things were tougher and society was different and that’s interesting. But how about we tell some contemporary lesbian stories up in here for a change? We still exist today, you know. (Another reason “Happiest Season” is so damn refreshing in its conventional contemporary appeal.)

In a perfect world we’d have a little of everything. The grim period pieces. The sweeping romances. The cheesy rom-coms. We would have diverse choices. We could choose to be picky about genre. You know, like straight folks get to be every day when they choose between the endless options of entertainment in television, film, music and more created precisely for them and their sexual orientation.

But we’re not in a perfect world, yet – clearly. So we take what we can get and we’re happy it’s taken if nothing else seriously. “Ammonite” is definitely worth seeing, it’s a solidly crafted and at times emotionally aflame story of finding love in a hopeless place. And, we’ll always have that scene. That alone might be enough to rock our worlds, so to speak.

”Ammonite” debuts on Video-on-Demand tomorrow, Dec. 4

6 comments:

Helena said...

Looking forward to the movie. Tracy Chevalier also wrote a wonderful book , Remarkable Creatures , about Mary Anning.

Carmen San Diego said...

Okay now I have to figure out how to watch this...

kelltwomyn said...

Kate Winslet was amazing. I am in awe of her ability to communicate so much without words. Plus, her lovemaking skills are A+! 😉. Thank you for another entertaining and informative review. I enjoy your writing!

Whazait said...

Can we talk about how this movie is kinda awful? No chemistry, no... nothing. I'm not even sure why they like each other because they rarely speak to one another. Are they just horny? I'm always happy a queer lady movie exists, but this is not the good stuff.

Carmen San Diego said...

Just watched it and Came back to say: wow that sex scene

Valcn said...

Love you Dorothy but your privilege is showing. I say until period films are being made about BIPOC women, we can’t have had enough. We have existed in every era too.