Reasonably Fake: Our Review of ‘Madame’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - March 23, 2018
Reasonably Fake: Our Review of ‘Madame’

“Mandy is a Filipino, nobody invites Filipinos to a dinner party…. She speaks terrible English and terrible French. I’m not even sure she knows how to speak Filipino”. The person saying these words is Anne Fredericks (Toni Collette). Anne is a rich American housewife who discovers that she has thirteen dinner guests. God forbid. And she’s trying to convince someone who is not Filipino to be lucky 14. Anne is on thin ice here and so is the movie. It thinks that it can make rich racists look funny, but that almost never works. I will say that I have met people like this. So the fact that this film can reflect ‘realistic’ characters is a plus. The lucky non-Filipino, by the way, is Maria (Rossy de Palma). She’s a Spanish immigrant and maid that the table mistakes for a Spanish aristocrat.

Maria is the protagonist, obviously. Toni Collette, who plays one of cinema’s most notorious underdogs, is the bully here. She’s not perfect here, performing affectations of a bougie mean girl as opposed to the real thing. Other actresses have fared better at being fake. Collette, however, is better at bringing out Anne’s good side. Few actresses can pull of a character who can show love to her husband Bob (Harvey Keitel). She also shows Anne’s vulnerabilities in a position as a wife that’s more precarious than it appears. It’s also nice to watch Anne’s face when she watches Maria charm her friends. There’s a particular guest who likes her, their art dealer David Morgan (Morgan Smiley). The charade should only last one night but their connection is intense. That’s perhaps because David thinks her aristocrat identity is the real one.

It is admittedly hard to stomach the movie’s ideas of justice and equilibrium. Anne consistently tells Maria off and puts her in her place. Someone might have forgotten to tell writer-director Amanda where the audience’s sympathies lie. It’s always with the downstairs people instead of with the people upstairs. The film also shows Anne’s hypocrisy since she was first Bob’s golf teacher before she became his wife. There aren’t enough characters to point to that. There’s also the jarring juxtaposition of twee, touristy French music playing off on these ugly characters. Sthers also relies on pathetic fallacy to signal how things get out of control. However, what she gets right is the banter between the couple. She also lets her story breathe, adding little scenes where there characters can play around. These little moments rescue a film and its problematic morality.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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