I tend to miss most of the previews on the Blu-rays I watch, as I am likely too busy fixing a drink or dimming the lights for the main attraction. A couple of months ago, I did catch the preview for Bitch on another MPI release and was immediately intrigued by the premise: an exasperated and unappreciated mom begins acting like a domestic dog after some sort of drastic breakdown. Marianna Palka's film is as crazy as it sounds, but it is also a hell of a good picture about mental illness, feminism and paternal responsibility. The filmmaker plays matriarch Jill in a wildly brave performance, and is joined by Jason Ritter as hapless husband Bill and Jamie King as her sister, Beth. Bitch may not be for everyone, but it cements Palka as a fierce rising talent.
Jill halfheartedly tries to kill herself in the opening minutes of Bitch by tying a belt around her neck and jumping from a chair. It does not work, and she retires to bed with the makeshift noose still around her neck. "Is that my belt," her husband Bill asks after cheating with a younger co-worker and missing dinner again. That lack of alarm is just one of many reasons why Jill is losing her mind. She and Bill have four kids who are expectedly exhausting, ungrateful and oblivious to their mom's discontent. Bill is working to stay afloat at his corporate job that has afforded the family many nice things but left little time for fatherhood. The next morning, Jill stares out the window at a neighborhood dog before disappearing. When she returns, she retires to the basement on all fours and begins barking and growling at her family and behaving in most other ways like a canine.
Jill's breakdown and transformation is so drastic that Bitch has to tread the line between serious drama and black comedy, which it does expertly thanks to Palka's sharp writing and directing. Bill is absolutely clueless as to how to get his kids bathed, fed and into their classrooms, so Jill's sister Beth arrives to help out. No one knows what to do with Jill, but Bill does not want her institutionalized. Bitch paints Bill as an adulterer, absentee father and complete dope, but explores enough of Bill's own insecurities to show he is fighting to keep up appearances and not disappoint as a man and father however misplaced his good intentions. Palka makes the refreshing choice to avoid any impropriety between Bill and Beth, which I expected was coming, and instead uses Jill's sister to show just how helpless Bill is as a father. In several poignant scenes we learn how things got this bad. Bill recalls Jill's selfless Christmas shopping and the charade of her own Christmas gift from Bill, which he neither selected nor wrapped. This mom was ignored for so long she went insane.
I am not sure if I would call Bitch heartwarming, but it does allow some redemption for Bill as he bonds with his children. The kids are actually pretty good people, too, and turn to each other for comfort and solidarity when their parents struggle. Jill's actions are both symbolic and representative of something very serious, and, while Palka does not explicitly detail the woman's unraveling, Jill's doggy behavior is a powerful symbol of helplessness and a rallying cry for the underappreciated. On the flip side is the notion that Jill may be fucking with Bill; in early scenes he rages about his selfish wife trying to sabotage his career on purpose. A late-game scene when Jill returns to her husband's side, still in the throws of her new identity, refutes that, but it certainly makes Bitch an interesting morality play. This is one of the most interesting films I have seen in some time. Expertly directed and acted, Bitch is cinema for the curious.
The 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is bright and clear, with good fine-object detail, bold colors and natural skin tones. Close-ups reveal strong texture in sets and costumes and intimate facial details. Wide shots are clean and crisp, and colors are nicely saturated. I noticed only minimal aliasing, and shadow details in the family basement reveal the unpleasantness of a naughty dog.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix handles the material well. Dialogue is clean and without distortion, and the growls, barks and howls of Jill the dog resonate, travelling through the surrounds to occasionally startle the viewer. All elements, including Morgan Z Whirledge's score, are balanced appropriately. A 2.0 stereo mix is also included, as are English SDH subtitles.
None, which is disappointing.
A movie about a suburban housewife acting like a domestic dog after a mental breakdown may not be mainstream material, but Marianna Palka's drama is unique, powerful filmmaking. Anchored by the director's own performance as housewife Jill, Bitch is a powerful exploration of mental illness, feminism and keeping up appearances. Recommended.