Pig Hag is one of the best, most truthful films I’ve seen this festival. I don’t say that flippantly — there have been astounding documentaries tackling weighty issues — but this narrative serves to uncover another form of injustice. It’s not afraid to lay bare how rubbish modern dating is and to ask the questions everyone else wants the answers to: why shouldn’t we be free to say how we feel? Why can’t we express our emotions honestly rather than playing games? It’s also so funny it’s ludicrous: I had to physically cover my face because I was laughing so hard at Anna Schlegel’s one-liners.
I had the privilege of meeting directors Colby Holt and Sam Probst, who are both genuinely invested in the film and expressed both excitement and a little nervousness at making themselves vulnerable by showcasing it on screen. In the Q&A following the screening, they explained that they wanted to express issues that have been going on in modern society, to cause a reaction, help people to see that it’s ok to be yourself and to feel the way that you do about someone else.
Directors: Colby Holt and Samuel Probst
Release date: March 11, 2019
Jodie, the protagonist, feels so real. She’s a 36-year-old nurse living and working in LA, who is the victim of multiple bad boyfriends and online dates, and who just cries out for people to be real with her. The reason I enjoyed watching this film so much was because it shows that there are still people in the world who aren’t afraid to let their inner freak loose and live truthfully. Jodie lives so intensely and passionately, some might say that she’s bipolar — and they do. She snorts when she laughs. She ugly cries. She lets food dribble when she’s upset. She talks too much when she’s nervous, lashes out on otherwise calm phone calls, and rolls her eyes when skinny girls next to her talk about how much they want to get married because one of their friends has posted a photo of their engagement ring on Instagram. In short — she’s just like you and me.
After a string of bad decisions, she’s subject to reprehensible online abuse from a recently soured date — the ludicrous name-calling leading to ‘pig hag’, a uniquely obscene insult that all her friends in retrospect laugh at. She tries to let it go, to defend herself, but she’s visibly hurt. In an attempt to shake it off, she attends a Guns N’ Roses concert alone, there meeting a man who she thinks might be her match. They have plenty in common and enjoy their time together. But when he ghosts her the next day, suffice to say she’s hurt, confused, and angry about the state of modern life.
Despite all her ups and downs, I never saw her as a freak: instead, I saw a devastatingly honest person, often angry but only because of her deep insecurities and vulnerabilities. It’s clear to see that Jodie has some baggage that she needs to shed before she can move on in life and be the validated person she wants to be. It’s a raw, life-affirming message and it heartens me to see that the filmmakers have put it out on display for the world to see. A classic line from her gay friend: “Girl, validation is like parking. You don’t walk down the street waiting for a guy to do it for you. You validate your own parking!” Indeed you do.
From the outset, I thought that the cinematography and editing were brilliant: very carefully considered and used affectingly. It’s not a new technique, but the layering of Instagram-proportioned images on the screen, the images swiping up off screen as Jodie was scrolling through them, was a wonderful tool that immersed us in her point of view while we simultaneously saw her reacting to the images on her phone. It was fascinating that these images, as well as texts (again not a new concept, but a brilliant technique) popped up on the screen. This was really important in showing the difference between a fake virtual world and the dangers of comparing it to your own reality.
And, for the humour, there are some deeply engaging philosophical debates about the nature of millennial society, comparing everyone to each other online, viewing a fantasy world — a simulation — as opposed to your own truth. And, if it’s true, why does it take a film for people to see what’s going on? To see how toxic modern ideals of femininity can be? I couldn’t be happier that directors Colby and Sam have broached this subject, often seen as a taboo, and how important it is to hold on to love for yourself and your friends and to not put so much importance on what others think of you.
Again, I commend actress Anna Schlegel for her bravery and honesty in putting this out for the world to see. She absolutely kills it in the lead role, delivering one-liners with such precision that you could cry laughing. “I’m going to die alone. I work in a nursing home, I’ve seen it happen.” Or, even better: “I think my uterus is going to rot before I have kids.” Oh, it’s so sad, so misguided, so distressing, so funny. If there’s anything I might like to see changed in the film, it would be that I’d like to see more of Jodie in different spheres, like work or with her family, but given the time constraints it’s understandably hard to fit everything in. And, in the inventiveness of the plot already — jumping around in chronological order — there is plenty of sophisticated material to keep viewers engaged.
One thing that I really didn’t expect but which came across as so poetic were the sequences of spontaneous laughter and fun, Jodie caught in slow motion, dancing at a Guns N’ Roses concert or laughing with her four gay best friends. They showed the capabilities of the directors to express themselves and the nature of the characters: to show that Jodie is deserving of fun, that she has everything that she needs right in front of her. The overall message of Pig Hag is that it’s OK to want to feel accepted, but that needs to come from yourself first before it can come from anyone else.