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click to enlarge Just watching my rights to bodily sovereignty stripped away by the GOP and thinking about what could possibly drive a woman to murder.

Love & Death

Just watching my rights to bodily sovereignty stripped away by the GOP and thinking about what could possibly drive a woman to murder.

LOVE & DEATH. Like fish in a river, each of us have a lure that, no matter how clever we are or how much we want to resist its color and flash, will snag us every time. If you popped open my custom tacklebox, there among the action heroines, hauntings and heists (and makeover montages — we're only as sick as our secrets), you'll find the shimmering hook of murder in the suburbs. Despite it being based on a true story (which mostly makes me feel like a ghoul, gripped by the drama of someone's personal heartbreak), when HBO's Love & Death debuted, there was no point in fighting its draws: churchgoing Texas housewives, set in the late 1970s (the kitchen décor alone!) and the disastrous explosion of the veneer of domestic perfection. Looking back from the cusp of its final episode, the focus on its central character Candy Montgomery, played by a relentlessly self-possessed Elizabeth Olsen, has created more mystery even as circumstances are revealed.

In 1978, content but not happy housewife Candy is looking for a thrill outside the bounds of her stable but uninspiring marriage to Pat (Patrick Fugit, taking masculine dowdiness to new heights with the help of costume designers who either love their craft or deeply hate him). She finds it in an initially passionless affair with Allan Gore (Jesse Plemons), a kind but uncharismatic man even Candy regards as "un-fall-in-love-able." That he's married to her publicly prickly and privately needy friend Betty (Lily Rabe) signals trouble, but Allan and Candy carry on a profoundly unsexy affair, in which she packs lunches, wears negligees and coaxes slack-faced awe from her inexperienced partner. Outside the agreed-upon boundaries of their regular meetings, life goes on as usual, with the arrival of a new pastor taking center stage as the focus of town drama. That is, until secrets get out, as they always do, and somebody snaps.

While I can't speak to the church choir set in Texas, the set design and costume choices are fully immersive for the time period, and the direction by Lesli Linka Glatter and Clark Johnson establishes the intimacy and alienation of suburban life in the late 1970s. (As I alluded to last week, looking at period pieces like this, one wonders how the pressures of domestic life on women in our current times — and their resulting rage — will play out on screen in years to come.) The script is by writer David E. Kelley, whose ubiquitous television work I've somehow managed hopscotch around until another engrossing crime/strained marriage drama on HBO, The Undoing (2020), hooked me with a combination of mystery, high-end New York City interiors and Nicole Kidman's incredible collection of coats. There, the question of whodunnit swung like a loose chandelier until the final moments. It was also utterly humorless, its strings tightening with each twist from beginning to end.

But Love & Death veers between the surreal, the mundane and camp, with Candy bopping along to pop music on the radio as she runs errands, then shifting to its true-crime shape as the dark edge of rage and violence moves in. The plot builds haphazardly toward the crime, then leaves us to ponder Candy's bizarre choices and responses to the aftermath. Even as we watch the facts of the case laid out, it's the cracks in her composure that feel like revelations, like they will lead to a sudden soliloquy that will answer all the contradictions.

Having watched WandaVision (2021), Marvel's retro TV-themed series, and seen how Olsen takes an initially campy turn as a domesticated Scarlet Witch and pulls the audience into an exploration of grief, returning to suburbia with her was a gimme. Olsen's quick and snappy twang belies the roiling trauma under Candy's perky exterior, though we see glimpses as she twists the juice out of orange halves or as she disassociates behind the wheel. Rabe is excellent as Betty, abrasive enough to clean a barbecue grill but still somehow sympathetic in her panicked fragility. Elizabeth Marvel turns in a human performance as a pastor and confidante, but Krysten Ritter's humor and grit, as seen in Jessica Jones (2015-2019), are sadly wasted here.

Plemmons, whose pallor I worry over in the Texas sun, manages as much innocence as one can in the role of an adulterer and what feels like genuine surprise at even the smallest happiness. Allan's cluelessness doesn't make him blameless, but then again, passive and lost as he is, it doesn't make him much of anything. Likewise, Fugit's Pat watches almost silently as the life and marriage he thought he knew flies apart and he realizes how little he knows his wife. With few exceptions, the men are ill-equipped to understand or cope with the emotional lives of Betty or Candy, much less figure out what the women are or are not capable of. Whether an audience can fathom them remains to be seen. TVMA. 60M. HBO MAX.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 320, or Follow her on Instagram @JFumikoCahill and on Mastodon @jenniferfumikocahill.


ABOUT MY FATHER. Sebastian Maniscalco stars as an Italian American son introducing his immigrant father to his fiancée's rich, WASP family. PG13. 89M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

BOOK CLUB 2. Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen head to Italy for the comedy sequel. PG13. 107M. BROADWAY.

FAST X. Can only assume they'll time travel or pierce the very veil of death in this one. With Jason Momoa in his villain era. PG13. 141M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3. Marvel›s misfit space squad returns. With Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista. PG13. 149M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

KANDAHAR. Gerard Butler and Navid Negahban star as a CIA operative and a translator running a gauntlet of assassins. R. 120M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE LITTLE MERMAID. Live-action Disney remake of the fairy tale with Halle Bailey in fins and Melissa McCarthy in tentacles. PG. 135M. BROADWAY (3D), MILL CREEK (3D), MINOR.

THE MACHINE. A comedian's viral tale of a reckless run-in with the Russian mob comes back to bite him in the middle-aged ass. Starring Bert Kreischer and Mark Hamill. R. 112M. BROADWAY.

MASTER GARDENER. Joel Edgerton stars with Sigourney Weaver and Quintessa Swindell in a drama about a gardener with buried secrets, some of which are neo-Nazis because it's always Nazis. R. 110M. MINOR.

SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE. Mustachioed brothers race to save a princess. Starring Chris Pratt, Charlie Day and Anna Taylor-Joy. PG. 92M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes, call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

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