It's the time of year when people in the entertainment business congratulate themselves and bestow various awards on themselves and their compatriots have given them. Or, as in the case of the Golden Globes, the givers are the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
The recipients are makers of movies and of television shows. What gives the Golden Globes their significance is their lead in and often their prediction of the Oscars next month. What gives both Globes and Oscars their importance is the marketing boost to be derived, as it's widely held that everybody loves a winner.
In light of that sentiment, my views of the big winner of this year's Golden Globe awards, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, constitute a counter valentine. Or at best a comic one.
Three Billboards scored big at the Golden Globes, winning Best Picture, Best actor for its star, Frances McDormand, and Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell, best screenplay for writer/director, Martin McDonagh.
The story centres on the anger of Mildred Hayes (McDormand) whose 18-year-old daughter's rape and murder remains unsolved by the local police after a year. Mrs Hayes, takes proceeds from sale of her ex-husband's tractor to rent billboards reading, in order, "Raped While Dying", "And Still No Arrests", "How come, Chief Willoughby?" The address is to the town's popular police chief, played by Woody Harrelson, in another of his signature laconic performances.
The billboards set off a furore of negative opinion in the town as well as the fury of the chief's deputy, a racist who admits to torturing "people of colour". That's only the start of McDormand's war, whose talley includes the burning of the billboards, the defenestration of the billboard manager, and the arson (by McDormand) of the police station, and, finally, the prospective murder of a stranger who may have committed a sexual assault during service in Iraq or Afghanistan.
On the plus side, the acting of McDormand and Rockwell is deserving of the awards they received. McDormand's rage is something to behold.
She is able to express it with her voice, her eyes, even silently with disdainful shrugs, or with a small change in facial muscles. Rockwell, too, fully embodies his character, enough so that one of the voters said she had trouble casting her ballot for him because the part he played, the racist deputy Dixon, was so loathsome. It's the film itself (and the screenplay) that I found unbelievable and ill-conceived.
Perhaps the awards were a reflection of the zeitgeist in which anger at sexual assault requires no further reflection or deeper consideration and this film is a revenge fantasy that addresses those feelings.
If that's what it intends, I'd give it an award for propaganda, but as artistic achievement it leaves much to desired.
A drama, even a dark comedy, which this claims to be, needs to have a dramatic arc.
To engage our sympathies the chief protagonist needs to undergo some sort of development, to experience some challenge, leading to a change of perspective or behaviour or understanding. That's not this story. McDormand's acting shows every nuance of rage, but that's all her character seems capable of.
She's limited by a screenplay that relies on sudden, unaccountable twists — the proverbial deus ex machina — like (spoiler alert) the wholly inexplicable death of the Harrelson character to move the action forward where it goes essentially nowhere.
The fact that McDormand's character pays no price for her own outrageous and criminal behaviour, motivated solely by her anger, only adds to the sense of her lack of responsibility. The hint we are given that she might have had an inadvertent part in her daughter's tragic fate only robs the movie further of any moral reckoning. With no catharsis of pity and fear, the movie becomes an empty spectacle of unfiltered, indiscriminate fury. And that's not funny. Those billboards might just have read, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here."
■ Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.