The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Woman's Prison

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Woman’s Prison

The truth-in-advertising title delivers what it promises right from the start. The opening shot is of a woman in a jail cell and through a series of flashbacks, the tragic path her life has taken is revealed.

Julie Ann Mabry (Olivia Adams II/Gemma Lee/Bernadette Bauer) has a devoted mother Susan (Katie Madonna Lee), a lecherous uncle (Paul Frye) hiding behind both Jesus and the devil, a missionary-turned-drug addict cousin Britney (Angelica Pasquini), and a resigned aunt (Kelly Daisy) who takes refuge in her Evangelical church, unaware that her family is falling apart. Butch (Brandon Phillipson) a male friend becomes a catalyst for Julie Ann’s metamorphosis from religious, home-schooled girl to cynical, sullen rebel.

Susan’ boyfriend John (Kyle Curtis) is abusive and makes good on his promise to kill her if she tried to get away from him. This all happens off-screen in a bit of a confusing manner. After her mother’s murder, Julie Ann goes to live with her aunt’s family and finds a friend and advocate in her cousin Britney. Events occur that reveal a flawed justice system, religious hypocrisy and an underlying feeling of helpless anger that all play a part in the unfortunate circumstances that plague Julie Ann, who is portrayed as a young child, a teen and a middle aged woman as her sad story unfolds.

Julie Ann lashes out in a world where every male in her life lets her down, either by violence, sex, or negligence in upholding the law. This includes relatives, a boyfriend, and several authority figures (judges, prison guards, attorneys).

The scared child grows into a bitter teen, commits a crime of passion and enters prison. Her incarceration enables her to meet other women with similar stories as she begins to chronicle her own in a journal exercise. Just when you think Julie Ann is on the path to redemptive insight and reform, a tragedy occurs once more, with dire consequences.

Olivia Adams II and Gemma Lee bring Julie Ann to life with an effective innocence and charm. Kelly Daisy is convincing as the religious aunt, and Paul Frye possesses just the right smarminess to convey lust hiding behind a pseudo-devout exterior. Angelica Pasquini can be compelling, but needs to work on a more natural line delivery to lessen the impression that’s she’s “acting.” Brandon Phillipson doesn’t let you see him acting; he just gets the job done and you believe him.

Director Katie Madonna Lee (Technicolor Splendor) presents a believable environment of despair and hopelessness in her portrait of an innocent child molded by hard knocks and betrayal until only the anger remains. She also acts in the film, portraying Julie Ann’s mother in a way that lets us know she is at ease in front of the camera as well as behind it.

Lee appears to have been blessed with a substantial budget, and the film’s cinematography is skillful, capturing agro-industry fields, sunsets and both the charm and dreariness of small town life. The story is a compelling one that unfortunately sometimes gets lost in a detour of unimportant minutiae.

The camera often focuses on distractions, usually an insignificant occurrence within the plot, or lingers too long on tracking shots of scenery. Meanwhile huge developments go unexplored to the point that the viewer might believe he missed something, when in reality it was never presented in the first place. This happens at several key junctures in the film.

A disappearance, several deaths, and a pregnancy are all glossed over, but there are several scenes of a charismatic church service that go on much too long. The same goes for a march with a casket that starts when the pall bearers are just dots on a screen and follows them all the way to the camera lens. These are simply static shots with no “electricity” attached, taking up time that could be spent furthering the story with relevant action. Most crucial occurrences happen off-screen and you just hear about them without the investment that witnessing the event imparts to the viewer.

For example, after more than an hour of slow moving narrative, there’s a jolting development toward the end of the film that seems out of place in the proceedings, like a southern drawl that suddenly turns into a drill sergeant’s bark. Getting from point A to point B needs to be a good deal smoother for the viewer to fully buy into the sequence of events.

Woman’s Prison has several cinematic gems scattered through it, but suffers from long, insignificant passages in between. The film’s final scene is poignant and powerful and shows that director and cast have the potential to craft a great visual story with less exposition and tighter editing.

A “breakout” production may be just around the corner.