Miss Meadows (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Miss Meadows (2014)

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Miss Meadows, the charming, well-liked, and eligible bachelorette of a quiet suburban community, teaches her loving students by the day and tends to her garden before sleep.  Little does her town know that behind the façade of the perfect next doors lies the heart of a vigilante who wants to kill ever last malcontent who crosses her path.  Is she a savior of the town using unsavory means, or do her actions inspire the behavior she is trying to rid the world of?  Screenwriter and director Karen Leigh Hopkins tries to answer that question with Miss Meadows, starring Katie Holmes.

The Mad GirlMiss Meadows is a collection of satirical bits that are left floating in the air of uncertainty between sad psychological drama and dark comedic embrace of lower upper-class narcissism.  Trying to engage with the movie is a bit of a tricky philosophical question à la the chicken and the egg.  Does Miss Meadows (Katie Holmes) pull the trigger to kill the criminals which were going to harm someone regardless of her vigilante nature?  Or is Miss Meadows willingly enticing these confrontations to fulfill some deep need which was internalized at the moment of violence early in her life?

What's frustrating about Miss Meadows is the evidence available exonerates or condemns her depending on the tonal whims of the scene.  Since even the basic satirical tone of the opening minutes gets changed for romance, comedy, bedroom drama, and then horror it's difficult to get an exact hold on who Miss Meadows is and what presumed good she does for the community.  Then, just when it seems a plot threat will open up to answer the problem of Miss Meadows' murders, it's closed with a violent moral shifting to her side of the story and never looks back.

Holmes is great throughout Miss Meadows and shows just how creepy she could have been in the role if the screenplay searched Miss Meadows' darkness.

Holmes is great throughout Miss Meadows and shows just how creepy she could have been in the role if the screenplay searched Miss Meadows' darkness.

I almost need to break Miss Meadows out into a pie chart to show what works well and what doesn't.  On the most basic level, Holmes' performance as the titular Miss Meadows is easily the best thing about the film.  Holmes has never impressed me as a performer and while she didn't exactly elevate the lesser material here she was a game performer who shifted her emotional responses to the events surrounding her accordingly.  She works best when mining the superficial perfect neighbor and schoolmarm persona she puts on for her friends and neighbors before gunning down threats to her neighborhood, but she's also splendid in the moments which require a full psychotic break.

But Holmes performance shows just how much of a confusing character Miss Meadows really is.  There are clear signs of psychosis as she gets horrible advice from her mother about being dishonest and shearing the useless humans from the flock.  But these directions are used to kill overwhelmingly evil people, such as a man with Playboy decals on his vehicle who threatens her at gunpoint or a priest who hides behind his authority from God to molest children.  Yet this is complicated by her brush-ins with people who have mental illness, or a creepy if altogether unthreatening man (Callan Mulvey) who seems to go back to his ways precisely because of Miss Meadows' meddling.  Director and screenwriter Karen Leigh Hopkins deals with the questions behind Miss Meadows' behavior via late conflict twists which put Miss Meadows completely in the right and leaving us the question about why there was any conflict regarding Miss Meadows' actions to begin with.

The visuals of Miss Meadows don't do much to help shape the film in any notable direction.  Miss Meadows dresses like a housewife extra from Mad Men with a full wardrobe of springtime dresses and elbow-length gloves, but this careful style doesn't give a hint toward the reasons for her murderous vigilantism.  They feel more geared toward an overall satirical effect and not a pointed one so we can get the primary effect of this prim and proper woman killing people without thinking too hard about why.  Even Miss Meadows' dialogue, filled with shallow colloquialisms and forced pleasantries, recall someone who learned their behavior from, again, old episodes of Mad Men but Miss Meadows doesn't have the cultural knowledge to make that the case.

The post-coitus talk about who deserves to die for what crimes feels like a cut scene from Natural Born Killers.

The post-coitus talk about who deserves to die for what crimes feels like a cut scene from Natural Born Killers.

In a rare case of gendered role reversal the doting and worried spouse is a cop played by James Badge Dale who once again highlights just how poor a romantic partner is in films like this.  Much like Mrs. Hawking in The Theory of Everything, I was more interested in the cop's motivations as he fell in love with and then learned to accept Miss Meadows' murderous hobby.  As a cop you'd also think there would be some interesting screenplay territory to mind as well but, no, aside from one conversation about how he's worried for her that's the most we'll hear from him on the subject.  If nothing else, I can thank Miss Meadows for showing these doting type of characters isn't solely a pigeonholed issue for women (though it is primarily that), but the result of a screenplay which needs someone for the protagonists to bounce from in various degrees of closeness while never challenging the central character.

To borrow a concept from American Psycho, there's an idea of a Miss Meadows here, a potential façade which conceals the nothing inside and still leaves her feeling blameless for the crimes she commits.  Instead there is a stew inside of Miss Meadows, ingredients for political, social, ethical, and religious concerns that her actions cry out to be read against.  That they aren't is the failing of Miss Meadows, that it's still interesting in the process, is its saving grace.

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Tail - Miss MeadowsMiss Meadows (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by Karen Leigh Hopkins.
Starring Katie Holmes, James Badge Dale, Callan Mulvey.

Posted by Andrew

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