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 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri?
Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is pissed. Her daughter, Angela, was brutally raped and murdered, and the police are doing nothing about it. So she puts up three billboards just outside her small Missouri town to make a point. “Raped while dying,” the first says. “And still no arrests.” “How come, Chief Willoughby?”
That Chief Willoughby, as played by Woody Harrelson, is frustrated by the billboards, but is even more frustrated that he hasn’t been able to find Angela’s killer. His junior officer, Dixon (Sam Rockwell), is less apologetic, and more out for revenge. He’s also notorious for beating black detainees, which earns him quite the reputation in town. What starts as a battle over billboards and free speech becomes a reflection on the role of the police in 2017 and how justice can properly be enacted.
Who’s in it?
Joining McDormand (who’s superb in the film), Rockwell (also excellent), and Harrelson (good but somewhat out of focus) are Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges as Robbie, Mildred’s son, John Hawkes as her ex-husband, Charlie, and Peter Dinklage as Mildred’s wishful-thinking love interest James. It’s a strong cast, if heavy on men underlining just how trapped in a world set on silencing her Mildred is.
Why should I see it?
Because it’s suddenly a Best Picture frontrunner.
The movie’s OK as a whole, though McDormand is absolutely worth the price of admission alone. She’s fiery and ferocious, while occasionally breaking down Mildred’s walls to see the pain that festers not that deep underneath the surface of her skin. She alone would be worth watching the movie on Netflix later on.
But now, Three Billboards has risen to the top of Oscar pundits’ best picture predictions almost entirely on the strength of its audience award from the Toronto International Film Festival. And while at first, I was skeptical about its chances (it is very off-beat for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), the overall weakness of the field and other factors will likely keep it afloat in the race.
What other factors?
Let’s just say that stories about men aren’t likely to be very popular this year. A woman-focused narrative all about pushing back against patriarchal forces seems like the perfect Best Picture to represent this year.
But how gay is it?
Barely, but there where it counts. McDormand is a DGAF icon for the ages, playing basically a version of herself here. Any queen who shows up to accept her Tony award in a jean jacket deserves our stanning.
In the film itself, Caleb Landry Jones plays the gay owner of the billboards, simply called Red. He’s sassy and cute, talking circles around Dixon in one confrontation scene, but is subject to an ugly scene of violence later in the film that’s hard to watch.
So yes, gays and gay icons present, but as you might expect of a film set in small-town Missouri, not great for the gays.
What’s this scene of violence?
It’s pretty brutal. Dixon throws Red out a window after things take a downturn for him at the police station. Saying much more would be a bit of a spoiler, but the fact that this violence happens at all should indicate to you that Three Billboards’ story goes far afield of a dispute over billboards.
Would this be a worthy Best Picture winner?
That’s a complicated question. As I said earlier, thematically, it would be a good choice in a year where Hollywood had to reckon with its disgusting treatment of women. But the movie just isn’t that great beyond McDormand and Rockwell. Twists turn with remarkably little foundation in logic, and director/writer Martin McDonagh’s script feels like it’s always catching up to the action until it hits a slower scene, and then the film gets remarkably stale. It’s not a badly made movie, but it’s an odd one, and would make for an odd Best Picture winner in that respect.
What’s a better woman-focused film to award Best Picture to this year?
So many! Colossal, Ingrid Goes West, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, even Girls Trip this is a year filled with different kinds of movies about women that are really good. But the only other woman-focused movies that seem like viable Best Picture players so far are Lady Bird and The Shape of Water. We’ll see if either manages to steal the zeitgeist moving forward. Until then, barely gay as it is, Three Billboards Over Ebbing, Missouri remains our frontrunner.
Three Billboards Over Ebbing, Missouri is in theaters now.