Women Talking is an excellent film. Writer/Director Sarah Polley uses her stark, limited sets and a stellar cast to tell a powerful character-driven story that gives pause for thought. After years of abuse, women in a staunchly religious community decide that they must make a choice for their future and their children’s future. What Polley does is give viewers an extremely intense and powerful look at a world most of us only think we know about, and the end result is both heartbreaking and empowering.
Women Talking, adapted by Polley from Miriam Toews’s 2018 novel, is vibrant cinema, even in the dreary barn in which it’s filmed, because of the impassioned performances of Jesse Buckley, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Judith Ivey, Ben Wishaw, and Frances McDormand and Polley’s hand at telling their story. Not one person outshines the other. Each of these gifted actors demands attention but not at the expense of another. After having endured years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of the men in their community. With most of the men away, the women gather – some of them with notable bruising – to discuss options for them. Do they stay and fight or do they run?
Unlike other recent award-worthy films, Women Talking is a message movie inside and out, and the message is clear on the faces of its characters in more ways than one. Polley and her actors do an extraordinary job at delivering it. No need for action sequences, flashy sets, and flamboyant costuming; Women Talking unfolds more like a stage play and its performances and the very starkness of the set grab hold and make the audience care and pay attention. The words and the cast are gripping. There is this mesmerizing intensity to the telling – like in Twelve Angry Men or the trial sequences in the film To Kill and Mockingbird.
The emotional stories and the suggested solutions to their issues with their men tug at the heart but also evokes frustration. They begin to rely on safety and power in numbers. Time ticks slowly, and Polley manages an intensity and a palpable sense of urgency that grabs hold and doesn’t let go until the film’s last moment. Woman Talking is not a film for everyone, but its voice is clear and profound. Polley and her crew deserve five stars up top.