No Means Oscar.
North Country, the story of one woman’s quest to bring a sexual harassment suit against a mining company, proves once again that America loves an underdog, especially when the dog’s a bitch. Ha! Get it? Because a bitch is a female dog, and I was doing the underdog thing… No? Just offensive? Damn it. Here I thought I was being clever, and instead I was just being sexist. Which is fitting, because the inability to differentiate humour and playfulness from harassment is what this film is all about. North Country is a fictionalized account of the Lois Jensen case, probably in much the same way that The Matrix is a fictionalized account of the life of Jesus. I suppose the film may be accurate, although I doubt that the real trial lifted so many clichés from crappy teen movies, like the slow clap scene that comes after the school nerd gives a rousing speech at a pep rally, or the part where everybody stands up to show support in a mix between Spartacus and Dead Poet’s Society. Perhaps it did, and perhaps at the end of the proceedings, Jensen put on make-up and took off her glasses, finally marrying the high school quarterback who dated her at first on a dare, but in the end because of true love. And maybe Simple Minds played over the end credits, I don’t know, but whatever the case, this movie is a little too contrived and bland for my taste, which means it’s a shoe-in come Oscar time. Charlize Theron, who plays Jensen surrogate Josey Aimes, is doubling up her chances for a second statuette, by both uglying up and playing a retard, two sure-fire ways to earn a nomination. Granted, she’s technically playing a Minnesotan, not a retard, but in those Midwest Bible states it’s really hard to tell the difference.
If you ask me, all this hoopla over sexual harassment is taking things a bit too far. Sure, women can do anything that men can do, except enjoy 30s slapstick comedy shorts and do math, but that doesn’t mean they should. Everyone knows that women have no place in the military, where it takes a certain amount of upper body strength to lift a 7 pound assault rifle and shoot a journalist in the eye through a car windshield. They are also terrible video game testers, since they would pan all arena fighters in favour of adaptations of Disney films that preserve the catchy theme songs. I would even go so far as to assert that women also have no place in the non-stripper related entertainment industry, because let them near a lap-top loaded with Movie Magic and they come up with innovative ways to team up Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in order to give other women unreasonable expectations about the myriad of adorable ways to meet Mr. Right. Listen, ladies, I know that Nora Ephron and Penny Marshall have taught you that the only way to meet the man of your dreams is through improbable talk radio connections and coincidental used book swaps, but the reality is that the man you marry will probably be the same guy who bought you so many shooters at Mexicali Rosa on Tequila Tuesdays that you threw up all the way through the hand-job you gave him in the back of a taxi cab. In addition, women are way too sensitive to casual comments, and off-the-cuff banter. I’m sorry, but if a women at my job looks good, I’m going to tell her that she does, and if she wears a skirt that shows a little calf, I’m going to force her to fellate a knife blade at gunpoint, and that’s just the way it is. They get so sensitive regarding every little wolf-whistle or gang-rape on a pinball machine, I wonder why they even bother putting on shoes and leaving the kitchen. But that’s just the way I am. I’m old-school, by which I mean almost criminally stupid.
Which is also the problem with this film: it’s stupid. Or rather, it’s over simplified. North Country has got a lot of things going for it, including a fine cast, which features the under-used Sissy Spacek, a fine actress despite looking more and more like a burn victim with each passing day. Frances McDormand and Sean Bean also give great performances, though Bean has a little trouble adapting his Yorkshire accent to a flat Fargo drawl, coming off more like Lars Ulrich than a Midwesterner. The film is well shot, and well paced, and has an interesting structure that interlaces scenes from the trial with the bulk of the narrative, leaving the viewer to question whether what we are seeing is objective reality or a subjective version of events, but it all builds towards a trite and over-simplified ending that ties everything up in a nice little bow with a truly improbable turn of events. Apparently, the film assumes that no one in the audience has ever seen Law & Order, and therefore is so mystified by trial procedure that they can pretty much rush through fifteen years of legal wrangling with ten minutes of dramatic court-room bustle, which is a little like reducing the War on Terror to a fist fight between Guile from Street Fighter and Aladdin’s Jafar. And for women who didn’t get that last reference because they were too busy dreamily singing “Friend Like Me” from the Aladdin soundtrack, Street Fighter is a video game