Home Theatre: Women at the helm
A fortnightly column that focuses on notable content available on the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's Blow the Man Down, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Easter Cove, Maine — the fictional setting of the Amazon Original movie Blow the Man Down — bears the look of a rather dismal and ordinary small port town. But we know right off the bat that this is not going to be an ordinary film. We know this because even before we are shown the town, we get a glimpse of the fishermen at the docks singing the sea shanty the film takes its name from, at the end of which the main singer looks right at us and winks. These singing fishermen reappear a few more times through the film, singing other traditional songs, acting as a kind of Greek chorus.
The film proper opens with a funeral. That of Mary Margaret Connolly, one of the town's matriarchs. The leader of this group of older women who quietly run the show. We only see Mary Margaret once — as she lies in her coffin — but her presence pervades the film. It also hangs over the lives of her two daughters — Priscilla and Mary Beth. These two are sort of like Elinor and Marianne of Sense and Sensibility. Priscilla the staid, sensible one, who is content with living in the small town and only wants to figure out a way to keep herself afloat. Mary Beth, however, is restless. She wants to travel, go to college in a different place, "or at least get the hell out of Easter Cove." Unsurprisingly, it's Mary Beth's impetuousness that gets the plot going. She kills someone, and as she and Priscilla try to cover it up, things start to unravel. And secrets come spilling out — about the town, and, of course, Mary Margaret.
Blow the Man Down is part thriller and part black comedy, but what really defines it is its setting. Writer-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy excel at bringing alive the ethos of this little port town. With a runtime of just an hour and a half, they give us a sense of the place the way a novel would do. Easter Cove may bear the drab look of winter but its inhabitants are anything but colourless. Chief among these are the town matriarchs — played by June Squibb, Annette O'Toole, and Marceline Hugot — who strut about town gently ribbing the policemen, organise pancake breakfasts, oh, and decide whether or not to allow the local whorehouse, Oceanview, to keep functioning. They are only overshadowed by the madam who runs Oceanview, Enid Nora Devlin, an old friend of theirs. Enid is played by the magnificent Margo Martindale, who steals every frame she is in, and the two scenes she has with the other three veterans are unquestionably the high points of the film.
You'll notice I haven't really mentioned any men so far (barring the Greek chorus). That's because this show is run by women both behind and in front of the camera. It's hard to believe Blow the Man Down is the debut feature of directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. There is such an assuredness here and I can't wait to see more from these two women. This is a very original film that manages to stay unpredictable almost throughout. Not by means of the proverbial twists, but just by steering clear of templates.
Within the film too the focus is squarely on the women. There are men, but they are almost incidental, with, perhaps, the exception of the aforementioned policemen (though I won't say too much about them in the interest of not spoiling). In one amusing scene, a serious discussion of the three matriarchs is interrupted by the husband of one of them. He has dropped his fork and wants another. His wife nods to her friend who gets one and gives it to him. The other friend, meanwhile, amiably inquires by about the football he is watching in a tone one would use to humour a child by asking about the cartoon it is watching. That's essentially how the film treats its men. As children to be guided and moulded by the women. And boy, is that good to see, for once! It's about time we see women at the wheel.
The film ends with the titular song, this time sung by women. More precisely with the words, "Give me some time to blow the man down." While the standard meaning of the phrase, blow the man down, is the overturning of a boat in a gale, it could also mean to knock a man down. That's precisely what the women in this film do, not just to a man, but to all of them. As for the women behind the film, they blow us all away — men and women alike.