|'Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn': With a Title Like That, Who Needs a Subhead?|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
04:30PM / Thursday, February 13, 2020
Director Cathy Yan's "Birds of Prey," an exuberant exercise in over-the-top, slickly anarchic filmmaking starring Margot Robbie as the girl you bring home to Mom only during an LSD trip, jogged my memory of a sociologically provocative scene in "Diner" (1982).
Mickey Rourke's Boogie, a city dweller who has procured a steed in Maryland horse country specifically to chase after a stately, blueblood equestrian, catches up and asks her name. To which she dryly responds, "Jane Chisholm … as in Chisholm Trail." Later, driving home and contemplating the episode, Boogie turns to his pal and asks, "Do you ever get the feeling that there's something going on that we don't know about?"
Such was the inquiry I mulled whence colliding with this eighth film in the DC Comics Extended Universe. And I'm a better man for it, an Alexis de Tocqueville of contemporary pop culture courtesy of a profession that plops me down in movies I'd otherwise never know about, let alone see.
Thus, per the lyrics of chanteuse Blossom Dearie's exampling of her savviness, "I'm hip." If asked to spread this multimillion-dollar fringe gospel to denizens of over-55 condo associations, assisted living facilities, and wherever diversity is a foreign term, I'm ready to give it a go. This is off-the-hook stuff, made even crazier when you consider that to an entire population of devotees it is simply business as usual, with no need for a libretto or a who's who synopsis.
Fact is, thanks to an insanely creative portrayal of the title character by Margot Robbie, whose tellingly scandalous behavior is rationalized in great part by her breakup with Gotham's infamous Joker, there is among the fancified deprecation of modern civilization some rather witty and universally pertinent thought.
It's there under all the colorfully embroidered confusion that's actually just a simple plot of despotic control by Ewan McGregor's Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask, a fiendish mob boss aiming to solidify his control through acquisition of a diamond that falls into a street kid's hands.
Less complicated in outward appearance only is the non-stop, viscerally outlandish kung-fu fighting, a phenomenally choreographed ballet of inner-city combat that is an excitingly worthy heir to the groundbreaking rumbles depicted in "West Side Story" (1961). Even considering the enhancements computers can impart, it's obvious that the dance lessons the movie's principals were dragged to in their youth were not for naught.
Equaling in accomplishment if not transcending the hellzapoppin' lunacy of the wildly violent doings is the enigma that is Harley Quinn, star and narrator of the bedlam who informs that she was raised in an orphanage after Dad sold her for a six pack of beer. Oh, and by the way, while you're accumulating snippets of the skinny and the jive, know that she is technically Dr. Harleen Francis Quinzel, the first in her family to attend college, who alas met the love of her life whilst an intern psychologist at Gotham's Arkham Asylum.
But fear not that higher education has trimmed the rough edges of our ghetto debutante. In an angry run-in with the big boss's arrogantly rude driver, it is in stereotypical, 50s movie Brooklynese that she vociferously informs him, "I've got a Ph.D., mother-(expletive)."
Like "Joker," the first DC release to garner an R-rating, "Birds of Prey" makes it two in a row, spewing four-lettered favorites in both the dialogue and in the lyrics of a kaleidoscopic mix of tunes old and new, rollickingly stitched into an astutely complementing score. Sharing in the chorus of invective-laced, abashing bad behavior and eventually teaming with Harley to help Ella Jay Basco's aforementioned hooligan escape the murderous designs of the depraved Roman Sionis, are the three attractive ladies who will ultimately become the Birds of Prey. They are, Rosie Perez as the dedicated cop, Renee Montoya; Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli/The Huntress; and Jurnee Smolett-Bell as Dinah Lance/Black Canary.
Look for metaphors aplenty amidst the stylishly swaggering showcase of feminine power, with equal shares of the lib and fatale varieties sprinkled throughout the hyperkinetic doings. In this satiric world that holds up a cracked, transitional lens to what it considers the currently disheveled state of human ethics, morality is parsed on a sliding scale. In the vein of Jack Nicholson's Colonel Nathan Jessep in "A Few Good Men" (1992), we are challenged to handle the truth — that original sin is alive and well, and currently starring in the role of the double standard that undermines the nature of our economy, the justice system and our ever-struggling fight for human rights.
Yep, all that, spun off from a comic book. Tell your friends at the condo association. They'll think you're cool.
"Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn," rated R, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Cathy Yan and stars Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor and Jurnee Smolett-Bell. Running time: 109 minutes