Everybody’s got that one “crazy friend”.
Having drifted apart for many reasons (mostly personal), Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) and Ginny (Katharine Waterson) go out to a beach for the week to where they’ll relax, catch up with one another, and hopefully, heal some wounds. But what eventually starts out as a promising, fun-filled week, soon turns sour when Catherine starts acting out in some rather strange ways. For one, she’s talking to herself almost constantly. And then, she’s always turning each and every conversation she has with a person, into some sort of fight or argument that goes and ends nowhere, except with her bawling her eyes out soon afterwards. Though Ginny’s no peach, either, she’s still trying to get control of her best friend’s emotions, which only intensifies once Ginny’s neighbor (Patrick Fugit) comes around. As the rage within Catherine grows and grows larger by each and every day, it becomes all the more clear to those around her that she’s clearly suffering from some painful mental disorder, but what it is? Nobody knows and quite frankly, they aren’t let ruining their one week away from the rest of existence, get ruined because of it, either.
Queen of Earth, on paper, is as simple as you can get with a movie. Two friends, go to a beach house to get away from all the pains that exist in their real lives. But writer/director Alex Ross Perry, being the inspired creator that he is, decides to take it one step further in showing that there may be more dark and sinister stuff lurking somewhere underneath. Though there’s a lot of tension as is what with Catherine acting like a crazed-nut half of the time, the movie never makes itself clear as a “thriller”; I guess you could consider it one, but not the kind people pay huge buckets of cash to go out, see, and have a splendid time with.
Nope, Perry means to go a lot deeper than that and it’s actually a lot better than most of the “bigger” thrillers I see in theaters today.
Though it would be safe to write Queen of Earth as nothing more than a “Roman Polanski knock-off”, it’s also a bit unfair. Sure, Perry is clearly aiming for that same sort of brooding style that Polanski utilized oh so well in his early-career psychological thrillers, but to call it a “rip-off” of sorts, isn’t giving him as much credit since he works off of this style and adds a bit more to it. One way, you could say, is that he put the style in a modern-day setting, but even then, it’s still effective. Because the movie takes place in what seems to be this little stitch of land that’s far, far away from the rest of the real world, the movie feels a whole lot more claustrophobic and gives you the feeling that no matter how hard these character’s try to escape one another, there’s hardly anywhere for them to go.
And it’s worth noting that the movie is crazy intense, but it isn’t for the reasons you expect. There’s no guns, no car-chases, no brawl, and there is sure as hell no action-sequences; it’s literally just three-to-four people sitting in a room, arguing with one another long enough until the other decides to throw in the towel and go be pissed-off elsewhere. It sounds so incredibly boring, but while watching it, with Perry’s non-stop usage of the close-up, as well as these performer’s, it’s anything but.
Which brings me to my next point: Elisabeth Moss.
It’s no surprise to anyone that Moss is a good actress. For many, many years on Mad Men, Moss was able to show us the transition Peggy Olson had as a small-minded, cute and naive girl who eventually became her own boss, got the man she wanted, and, from what we can believe, everything worked out for and she was happy about. But, to be honest, she was a lot more restrained in that role and was never able to show people what she was truly made of and could do as an actress.
As Catherine, Moss is able to let loose like she’s never done before. It’s almost as if all those years of holding everything back for Matthew Weiner finally made its way out of her and it’s such a beauty to behold. Not because it’s fun to watch Moss cry, run around rooms, curse aloud, and give people the stink-eye, but because we all know it all comes from a thoughtful place. Perry doesn’t point the finger at Catherine and her antics, as much as he just holds up a magnifying-glass and allows us to see her for what she is; she may be a loony tune, but she’s one that it’s easy to feel bad for, because we know that a lot of this is out of her control.
Does that make her a perfect person? Nope, not at all. But just like in real life, nobody else is either.
Like, say, Katharine Weston’s Ginny who, believe it or not, has a worse attitude than Catherine. Through some very telling flashbacks, we see how Ginny would sometimes treat Catherine; sometimes, she was cruel, others, she was as sweet as could be. But the times that she was mean and ugly, are hard to get past as they show exactly what kind of person Ginny is: The jealous type.
Though a lot of people are going on and on about Moss’ performance, it’s worth noting that Waterston is quite good here, too. While it’s less showier role than Moss’, it’s one that still delivers on a lot of stern and scary standing that gives Ginny a lot of presence in scenes that you don’t even think she’s in. Together, the two are great; whether they’re fighting or loving one another, there’s always some neat little piece of info to pick-up on from their scenes together and it’s the true sign that these gals are true acting talents that deserve all the work they get thrown at them.
As for Patrick Fugit, his role in the film is where I started to get a little annoyed. Though Perry does take his time and care in portraying Catherine’s mental issues, those that are opposed to her don’t get the right amount of treatment. While Fugit is good as the neighbor who comes around and can’t help but piss Catherine off, the dude’s still very much “the dick character” and it plays-off a little too hard, rather than being tucked-in underneath. This is where the movie’s sense of subtlety started to fade away, and I soon realized that maybe Perry needed to take a little more time in writing how these other characters were.
But hey, that’s just me. He’s the one making movies with Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, and Patrick Fugit.
Consensus: Thanks to two spectacular performances from Waterston and most definitely, Moss, Queen of Earth is a lot more compelling and eerie to watch than the small premise may have you think.
8 / 10