Warning: Major Plot Spoiler to follow: Don’t read if you with to be surprised the by movie.
I saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri yesterday. I have to say that, overall, it’s the most wildly overpraised movie I’ve seen since Finding Llewyn Davis. The performances, by Frances McDormand and others, are solid. I expect McDormand to pick up another Oscar nomination and perhaps another win and I won’t complain.
My problem is that the storytelling, on many levels, is “off.” McDormand plays a woman whose combination of grief, rage, and guilt ring true, but many of the others in the movie do not behave the way any person I know or have known about would.
What has particularly stuck in my craw since yesterday is the behavior of Woody Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby. Early on, we find that Willoughby has pancreatic cancer and is dying. This appears to be an open secret in town. Nevertheless, Willoughby is able to maintain his (not entirely effective) leadership of the Ebbing Police Department and his role as husband and father at home. He experiences a brief hospitalization (following a pretty gruesome interrogation scene with McDormand’s character), but seems to be able to resume his daily activities (at work and home) just after.
I have recent and absolutely unsought experience with living with a person in the end stages of cancer. The capacity to carry on Activities of Daily Living is precious and can go away suddenly.
We follow Willoughby through a trip to a local lake, where he sets up a blanket where his daughters must stay while they fish. He and his wife then go off to a nearby spot where they can be “alone.” We then see Willoughby enjoying a good night session with his daughters, something all three of them clearly treasure. Then we see him with his wife. Their conversation makes it abundantly clear that they have shared a mutually satisfying lovemaking experience. Willoughby teases his wife about her going out to the barn to clean up after the horses. He says he’ll do it. He briefly interacts with the horses, then puts a mask over his head and shoots himself in the head.
The note he leaves for his wife reviews how wonderful that day was. He says he wants THAT day to be her final memory, not the days ahead when she would have had to care for a weak and dying man. I cannot say this strongly enough: HE’S WRONG!
I treasure EVERY DAY I had with my wife. Even on her last day, when she was unable to get out of bed, I treasure the fellowship we had with her, the pleasure she took in chewing on ice chips and the chance we had to enjoy a last episode of The Good Doctor together. I didn’t KNOW it was her last day. It was not even a little fun to realize that she wasn’t asleep, but had died in the night, but I’d take that a thousand times over finding that she had shot herself two or three months earlier. If Willoughby was as good and loving a man as the filmmakers want us to think he was, he’d have known that.
Willoughby’s suicide drives a couple of other plot developments that otherwise lack any motivation. I suspect that’s why the story tellers put it in. I really think the whole movie falls apart here. I sincerely hope that the members of the Motion Picture Academy will be wiser than the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and honor a more worthy movie for Best Picture. Get Out or The Post would be my choices.