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A Utopian Dystopia – Real Life and Every Secret Thing

IMG_6210I spent yesterday hanging out with my girl Genna – a fellow American in London, we decided to ‘celebrate’ by drinking in Hampstead Heath. And what beautiful weather we had! Two bottles of prosecco + strawberries + crisps & hummus = a perfect Saturday. But what I love most about hanging out with Genna is how easy it is to talk to her. We’ve got similar tastes and political leanings, but are different enough to balance each other out, and honest enough with each other to keep our friendship in check.

We talk about a lot of things, but one thing we talked about was girl-girl friendships; what they need to for longevity, and to remain healthy and happy! This morning I watched a film called Every Secret Thing based on a novel by Laura Lippman. The film doesn’t get great reviews, but I loved it. I watched it with my flatmate and friend, and we remarked on something really interesting – the film is pretty diverse, and pretty feminist. The two (arguably three) main couples are all interracial. The detective team is too. The two protagonists are both white, which is where the diversity struggles, though one of the girls’ managers is played by the phenomenally talented Tonye Patano, making another interracial pair. The story itself, though, isn’t about race (while it manages to highlight it). It is a story of female friendship, mother-daughter relationships, and jealousy.

In this film, the women are all in roles with agency – as criminals and heroes. There are female victims, but they don’t cower in corners. Particularly strong is Renée Goldsberry’s character Cynthia Barnes, a mom whose (bi-racial) child was kidnapped. These women act, they are conflicted, they express themselves, and they don’t wait for men to rescue them. The film is deeply troubling to anyone who had a strained friendship. Themes of motherhood and responsibility are subtly unraveled through the two protagonists’ lives.

Without giving too much away, I thought Every Secret Thing did something really special – it reflected the world the way it is, and the way it should be. Multi-racial, with women in powerful roles. It is Elizabeth Banks as Detective Nancy Porter who discovers clues, goes out in the middle of the night despite her husband’s protests, pulls together all the threads of the case, and is the ultimate hero. She is supported by Nate Parker, as Detective Kevin Jones. When he hits a brick wall getting files, she takes the phone and demands them, no pleases no sorries no excuses. She knows what she needs, and she gets it. [Sidebar – I wish Goldsberry and Banks had swapped roles – cause Goldsberry as Geneva Pine in The Good Wife is a powerhouse.]

The two protagonists, Alice and Ronnie (Danielle Macdonald and Dakota Fanning respectively) are also agents of their own fate, which is intertwined due to Alice’s mom’s manipulation and impact on her daughter. I’m oversimplifying, perhaps, but it’s hard to unravel either girl’s fate from the actions of Helen Manning (Diane Lane). While the film is dark, sometimes a bit slow, and disturbing, I thought it reflected something not a lot of films deal with – young female relationships. We see Mean Girls and Gossip Girl, but Alice’s & Ronnie’s story begins at age 11. When I look back on my life, one of my closest and most impactful friendships began at that age, was full of strife as we grew, and ended abruptly and in tears. But these aren’t the stories we read about. Disclaimer: the only show I can think of that accurately delves into real female friendships is My So Called Life (which is my favourite thing in the universe.)

Every Secret Thing may not be a feminist dream (like Mad Max [I had to resist putting seventeen exclamation marks there]) but it certainly shows a side of girls’ growing up that needs to be discussed. Feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and loneliness hit us young. If we’re lucky, we grow up to have friends like Genna (and several others, I might add so they don’t feel left out!) with whom those feelings can be discussed. Friendships can’t last on faith alone. They don’t go on blindly and unquestioningly. They need to be examined, discussed. A murder-mystery-thriller isn’t exactly the beset vehicle for these discussions, but if that film can do it, and cast interracially, why can’t others? 

p.s. I don’t know why it got mediocre reviews (I read one, and while I agreed with some of its points I still enjoyed watching it!), and I also haven’t read the novel yet (it’s on the list).

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: sisterhood: an association, society, or community of women linked by a common interest: fighting the patriarchy! | Ellaquence & Sonder

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