“She just publicly updated her relationship status.” Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a shotgun blast of pure pop riot grrl anarchy. Just the slap in the face “bro culture” has needed. And will continue to need.

Director Cathy Yan and producer/star Margot Robbie, working from a script by Christina Hodson, have crafted a beautifully forward-leaning day-glo antithesis to the retrograde sludge that was Suicide Squad (the precursor to Birds of Prey wherein Robbie’s “Harley Quinn” made her scene-stealing debut). One could even argue that Birds of Prey is a razor-barbed bookend to the exquisite existential angst of DC Entertainment’s Oscar-winning Joker.

The set up of Birds of Prey is that Harley has finally broken up for good with her boyfriend: yes, The Joker. Not Joaquin’s superior “Mistah J,” but Jared Leto’s inferior one – the tattooed, gold-toothed, overacting, “Hot Topic” fever dream one from Suicide Squad. Their breakup involves blowing up a chemical factory because, you know … comic books. As Rosie Perez’ world-weary and whimsically hard-boiled Detective Renee Montoya observes, “She [Harley] just publicly updated her relationship status.” Robbie is divine as Harley. Full of madcap poignancy, unencumbered by the cinematic fetishization she and the character suffered in Suicide Squad.

Alas, freeing herself from one hotbed of toxic masculinity just throws Harley into the deep end of a pool of abusive, egomaniacal, swaggering male bullsh*t as every thug in town now sees Harley as fair game. Leading the pack is Ewan McGregor’s sadistic Roman “Black Mask” Sionis and his sleazy, murderous, codependent wingman Mr. Zsasz (a fabulously glowering Chris Messina). McGregor literally gnaws at every splinter of scenery in one of his best performances – all fluttery hands, gritted teeth and coiled self-loathing.

Eventually the film adds a serpentine plot line about a diamond and a hidden family fortune, tied to a mafia family entirely gunned down years ago with only one “lost” survivor. Think Anastasia by way of The Jersey Shore. As Birds of Prey gathers momentum, like a pinball careening through a Rube Goldberg contraption, Harley partners up with Detective Montoya as well as a scrappy street thief Cassandra Cain (charming Ella Jay Basco), sonically superpowered club singer Black Canary (sparkling Jurnee Smollett-Bell of Roll Bounce and The Great Debaters), and socially maladjusted but utterly a$$-kicking Huntress (dynamite – as always – Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Fargo and Sky High).

There is a buoyancy to the entire film that is utterly infectious. The sheer joy these actors seem to be having playing women in command in a world out of control is a delight. I’m not one to care much for fight scenes or action sequences, but the balletic, athletic choreography on display here is Gene Kelly meets Sly Stallone, Bob Fosse meets Jackie Chan, if filmed by Vincente Minnelli. When a climactic car chase involves one of the characters on roller skates, you may be in for a treat.

The film reminded me of Drew Barrymore’s reboot of Charlie’s Angels, now 20 (!) years old. A film by women and about women, reclaiming a genre (action/superheroes) which has been far too long dominated by men (and, worse, by men of a certain stunted emotional development). Go for the hijinks, stay for the surprising depth of character development, and linger for the final scene as the women celebrate their victory over tacos and margaritas, sharing camaraderie and conversation and honest appreciation for their common humanity. Far too few films – let alone comic book epics – end on such an affirming note. Keep ‘em coming.

P.S. Spoiler alert for my animal loving friends, but Harley’s hyena “Bruce” makes it to the end of the film just fine. 😉

I leave you with these lyrics from one of the songs in the film, the lyrics of which I think encapsulate the flick nicely. From Birds of Prey soundtrack cut “Smile” by Maesie Peters: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X0exh-UHsjg

[Chorus]
Got bridges to burn and places to run
Yeah, this smile is a loaded gun

[Verse 1]
It’s my party, my body, my business
It’s my town and my crown on my hitlist
It’s my world and you’re just living in it
Did I, did I, did I finish?
They are my girls, and it’s us who’s deciding
It’s our door, did we say you’re invited?
Leave your name and we’ll call if we like it
If we, if we, if we like it

[Pre-Chorus]
No more Mrs. Sweet and Miss Nice
No more Mrs. Fuckin’ Polite
Time for Mrs. Takin’ What’s Mine
You don’t need him

[Chorus]
Got bridges to burn and places to run
Yeah, this smile is a loaded gun

[Verse 2]
It’s my party, my body, my business
If he tries to control me, he’s finished
Won’t be crying, there’s plenty of fishes
And I, and I, and I’m fishin’
You should know that you won’t find another
Who will ruin your life then your brother’s
Who will take what she’s owed when she wants to
Did I, did I, did I stutter?

5 thoughts on ““She just publicly updated her relationship status.” Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

  1. you have identified appropriately wtf is wrong with spoiled, game-playing, rotten male shitheads…so sick of them all (who fit that mold) that I want off the planet yesterday…maybe I could join these movie girls? tra la? censor me if you wish? ha!

  2. sounds like a Wonderful gurrrrl power film. I love that there are both hijinks and strength involved. p.s. saw your garb in person and I think you wore it quite well –

  3. Pingback: “They paved paradise.” The power of documentary film in pandemic: A Castle in Brooklyn, King Arthur and Marvel’s 616 « Reel Roy Reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.