Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

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Movie critic Josh Board with Margot Robbie

I felt a little like Stephen King when, after everyone complained that no female directors were nominated for Oscars, that art isn’t about diversity. It’s about creating great art, no matter who you are (and for the record, the female director that didn’t get nominated and should have — Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre for The Mustang, isn’t even talked about; just the one who directed the awful Hustlers. But I digress)

This movie is directed by a woman (Cathy Yan). It’s written by a woman (Christina Hodson). It’s produced by a woman (Harley Quinn herself — Margot Robbie), and the women that do all the ass-kicking are awesome. This is the type of fun I look for in a comic book movie that I don’t want to take too seriously.

Harley Quinn and the Joker have broken up and she’s trying to forget about him by clubbing, drinking, blowing things up, and punching anyone that crosses her. She even contemplates what type of business to start (seeing the words “life coach” handwritten on a business card was hysterical). 

Yet since she’s no longer the Joker’s girl, she can’t rely on his protection. That means every Tom, Dick, and Harry wants her dead. Gotham police (Rosie Perez, in one of the rare films where her voice isn’t annoying) are on her tail. Her biggest worry is Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). We know just how bad he can be, when the movie starts with his henchmen peeling the faces off a family he’s torturing [at that point at the movie screening, a mother took her 5-year-old daughter out of the theatre; folks, this is a hard core R-rated movie for the violence. Get a clue before seeing movies that aren’t appropriate for kids].

There’s a teenage pickpocket named Cassie (Ella Jay Basco), who has a bad home life with a foster family. She steals from the wrong person, who had a huge diamond in his pocket. That means everyone is now after her, including Harley Quinn. Surprisingly, many of those elements end up being rather sweet, and you grow to like Quinn. In this film, it’s hard not to like her, because she’s always beating up people that seem to deserve it.

There’s a nightclub singer named Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who should probably drop the “Smollett” from her name, to not be associated with her crazy brother Jussie). She goes from being Sionis’ singer, to his driver, once he sees her dispatch of some drunk goons trying to rape a drunk Quinn.

A woman named Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)…who with her use of a crossbow will probably make Ted Nugent drool…has come into Gotham to kill the mafiosos that took out her family.

I’ve complained a lot lately about films being so much longer than they need to be (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Irishman, and A Hidden Life from this year). This movie was 1 hour and 45 minutes, and it still gave us time to get to know each of these women, their backstory, and a reason to root for them. The chemistry they have together is terrific, too. This is how to do girl power! Even with the soundtrack, which starts off perfectly with Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You” (regarding the Joker break-up). We hear a cover of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” as well as Heart’s “Barracuda” and some Kesha and Halsey. There’s also a great moment where Smollett-Bell sings James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and a hysterical video of Robbie singing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” 

And playing Barry White during a romantic scene has been done to death, but playing it while a drunken Quinn is eyeing the egg sandwich that’s being made for her at a greasy spoon — is classic.

You’ll also hear stuff from Patsy Cline, Barry White, the Ohio Players, and more. The score by Daniel Pemberton is bombastic and helps with the action. Those action sequences and fights are a blast. Especially one in an amusement park.

It was fun in the Super Bowl, seeing someone from my old high school — Mira Mesa High — score two touchdowns. Well, I brought an old classmate, who is a roller derby announcer — the ILL Reverend Mic. We walked into the screening and many women came up to say hi to him. Turns out, they were roller derby players who were given tickets, probably because there’s a scene showing Quinn doing roller derby. I asked him what he thought of the movie and he said, “I liked it. It knew what it wanted to be. It was a tight, fun film. It was the redemption of Suicide Squad.”

This is the movie Suicide Squad, and Joker, should have been. It had a Deadpool vibe that worked nicely (especially the very last scene after the credits rolled, which had the audience in stitches).

4 stars out of 5.

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