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But How Gay is ‘Peppermint’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is Peppermint? Call it the female Taken, although I think that misunderstands it a bit; Peppermint is the story of a mother brutally and efficiently taking revenge on those involved in the murder of her husband and young daughter five years ago. This includes killing not only the gang members who gunned them down, but the judge who let them off, the district attorney who threw the case, the defense attorney who threatened her, and more. Her name is Riley North, and she is here for fucking justice. And social media loves her for it, rallying around her as a folk hero vigilante.

Refreshingly, Peppermint doesn’t waste time on backstory. There’s an implication that being shot in the head during the shooting that killed her family affected Riley in a way — made her escape police custody, caused her to flee the country, etc. But other than a YouTube clip of her MMA fighting, we don’t learn how Riley turned from soccer mom to professional-grade assassin. The movie puts us in the seats of those who knew Riley five years before, and now must suddenly adjust to her being totally different than she once was. It’s an effective choice.

Who’s in it? Jennifer Garner goes full Alias as Riley, but manages to include some of her Love, Simon/Juno warmth in there. I saw the movie with my The Kiki co-host Mathew Rodriguez, and he wisely noted that Garner is perhaps at her best as an actress when talking to her child. She’s got a great maternal instinct that reads as earnest and sincere on screen. That works to her tremendous benefit in Peppermint, because her motherly love is so strong, you instantly buy the lengths Riley would go to for revenge.

The rest of the cast is mostly there to get killed, but of note, we’ve got John Gallagher Jr. and John Ortiz as the cops assigned to Riley’s case, and a cast of Latinx actors mostly playing gang members, most notably American Crime’s Richard Cabral. I bring that up only to note that it’s maybe Peppermint’s weakest point: Other than Ortiz’s Detective Moises, every bit of Latinx representation in the movie is a gang member. It poorly represents LA, the film’s setting, and it’s troubling to watch a white woman gun down Latinx man after Latinx man. Though she does kill several white and Asian men as well. Riley kills many, many men.

Why should I see it? This movie moves. It is one of the most breakneck-paced films I have ever watched. Not a moment is wasted; director Pierre Morel keeps us going the entire time. It’s remarkably focused on the story, with little space given to anything superfluous. You’ll have a good time at the cinema, to say the least.

But how gay is it? No gay characters, although I’d argue there’s inherent queerness in the idea of a mother being the one to take revenge for her family versus a father. A nice flip of the script. But yeah, no gays.

I will say, when I went to a local theater for my Peppermint screening, I learned the theater was also screening A Star Is Born that night. And if one theater screening both Peppermint and A Star Is Born is not gay rights, I don’t know what is.

Why is the movie called Peppermint? Okay, so this is kind of dumb. The night she’s killed, Riley’s daughter orders peppermint ice cream, which she’s holding when she dies. That’s it. That’s why. Riley’s codename isn’t Peppermint or anything. It’s odd.

I’m not a big action movie fan. Should I see this? If your objection is to gratuitous violence, Peppermint is not for you. I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to that stuff, but I appreciated it here only because the action felt so well-punctuated and sharp. Taken on its merits, it’s a very good action film.

That said, and I hate to keep bringing it up, but this isn’t just an action film. It’s an action film where a white woman indiscriminately takes down scores of POC. Would this movie be better with, say, Michelle Rodriguez in the Riley role? I don’t know; I think you’d lose a lot without Garner. Would the movie be better if the gangsters were Italian instead of Latinx and Asian? Maybe. Point being: The blood and guts may not be the only thing that makes you feel a little unsettled while watching this.

Do you recommend Peppermint, then, or just Jennifer Garner? Just Garner, I’d say. She’s spectacular in the role. I love Riley, but I could take or leave Peppermint.

Peppermint is in theaters now.


 

Kevin O'KeeffeKevin O'Keeffe

Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer and 'RuPaul's Drag Race' herstorian. He covers film and TV for INTO, and writes the movie review column "But How Gay Is It?" every Friday.

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