It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of everything Guillermo del Toro, so even though NIGHTMARE ALLEY stars someone I absolutely cannot stand (Bradley Cooper), I was *very* excited to see it! It landed on HULU & HBO Max this month, so I gave it a whirl last night.
We meet Stanton Carlisle (Cooper) as he’s fleeing a house on fire – which is quite an exit! After a bus ride, Carlisle exits and sees a carnival across the street from the bus stop. He wanders over and steps into their freak show’s main event: The Geek, a man/animal who bites the heads off of live chickens. Disgusted by what he’s witnessed but in need of money, he approaches the owner, Clem (Willem Dafoe) for a job.
Stanton is charming and resourceful, and he quickly makes friends with seer and fortune teller Zeena (Toni Collette) and becomes a valuable member of the carnival family, working his way up from Barker to Collaborator and winning the heart of Molly (Rooney Mara), aka Elektra: the girl who escapes jolts of electric current unharmed. But Stanton craves more, because he’s better than this small time gig.
After leaving the carnival to start his own Mentalist act, Stanton becomes corrupted by money and power – risking everything in order to grow his influence and his bank account. Since this is a true Film Noir, you can guess what happens from there. 🙂
Look, this is an absolutely gorgeous film, but it doesn’t hold the same magic for me as other GDT films. The two and half hour running time is wayyyyyy too long, and while this is an interesting study of human monsters; I missed seeing actual del Toro creatures. A Lot. It is for sure my least favorite GDT film, but it’s still a solid 3 out of 5 stars and it’s not without some greatness, which is what I really want to talk about – THE WOMEN.
Zeena (Toni Colette) is an absolute goddess; a tarot card reader; a con artist; a free spirit; a woman in love with her husband Pete (David Strathairn) but also down to smash a hot, mysterious stranger. Zeena has a big heart, takes people under her wing, and looks out for her friends and fam. I immediately wanted every single outfit she had on, and only *wish* I could be as cool and collected as she is at all times.
Molly (Rooney Mara) is a bit of an ingénue; aloof and radiant; curious and calm; easily duped but also smart enough to see when someone continues to abuse her trust. One line she drops at a crucial moment is a clue to her past – which we learn few details about, “I never let any man do it to me all the way before; not how I agreed to, anyway.” She knows when enough is ENOUGH, and she is stronger than anyone realizes.
Lilith (Cate Blanchett) is fucking FIRE every moment she’s on screen. A glamorous psychiatrist; a powerhouse of secrets; a woman who is chic and unbreakable, always in control, and 100x smarter than anyone else around her. My alternate ending to this film would be that Molly runs away with her – but alas, we aren’t getting CAROL 2, and I guess I just have to live with that.