June 24th, 2022: the United States Supreme Court overturned the 1973 decision to make abortion in the U.S. legal. This is not only a blow to the modern Women’s Rights Movement, but it also opened the door for the Supreme Court to overturn other decisions involving personal rights and rules of privacy. Prior to the original ruling, abortions happened. Some women survived, some did not. If you want a fairly non-confrontational way to explore that period of time, check out Phyllis Nagy’s based on a true story drama Call Jane, set for release on October 28th. Or, better yet, check out co-director Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes’s documentary The Janes, available on HBO Max as of June 8th, 2022, which explores just what it was like for women of all classes and races when it came to safe medical access. Either of these two films, one more fictionally dramatic than the other, tell us about what was. In anthology film Give Me An A, 15 short films explore what might be through the lens of horror, comedy, science fiction, and several of the subgenres within. Though the tones don’t always mesh and the ideas of the films in total don’t always coalesce clearly, there’s no denying the prophetic nature of executive producer Natasha Halevi’s project. The question is: will audiences heed the warning or will it all come true?
Ordinarily, this is the space in the review where a summary of a film or project would go. Because it’s an anthology, providing a summary of any kind would be difficult. The overall film is structured as within the confines of a cheerleading performance wherein two cheerleaders hold up two cards: one denoting the name of the short and the other the writer and director of said short. We’re introduced to the cheerleaders briefly, the opening taking place as the members come into a dressing room and change in their uniforms. It’s done tastefully, the camera placed low so that the audience only sees their feet to their upper thigh, the camera slowly moving down the length of a bench as the members of the team chat while putting on their uniforms. Quick eyes will catch one student who places a copy of Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter down on the bench, a staple of most high school literature courses and a book which details the very puritanical roots of the Supreme Court ruling. The cheerleaders do serve more of a purpose beyond introing each short, but, to know what, you’ll have to check out the film in full.
What can be explained, or at the least acknowledged, is that the use of cheerleaders is as much a means of offering a play on words with the title, itself sounding like part of a cheer, while utilizing a portion of sports that’s primarily designed to support and uplift male sports through a uniform that’s fair play for the sidelines, but not likely to pass the stringent dress code rules of the same educational institution. From the get-go, Give Me An A dives into the puritanical and patriarchal nature of society that constantly places women in subservient roles, whether as sex kitten, matron, or caregiver. Why else would schools continue to be in favor of dress codes that never place the responsibility of focus or decency on the male students and instructors versus the entire onus of responsibility on the young girls and women? The answer is that schools see women as the problem and not as people deserving of equal protection, supporting “boys will be boys” while women must be constantly on guard for abuse of one kind or another. Especially as the short films begin and their topics laid bare, we constantly go back to the cheerleaders who slowly lose their outward facing positivity as it goes on, perhaps starting to show their true feelings of resentment at being little more than props for the male gaze.
The rest of the film — the bulk of it, in fact — is far more hit/miss, of which is often expected with anthologies. The hits (like writer/director Meg Swertlow’s opening short The Voiceless) are fairly simple and understated, their messages hitting hard. In that one, a woman (Kristen Ariza) gets up, brushes her teeth, and the moment that the June 24th ruling is declared, her mouth disappears. Not just her’s either. The intention here is clear and plain, no need for subtextual analysis, and it’s executed in a manner that it feels horrific and real. The opening to the film proper via the cheerleaders is light and silly, so The Voiceless is a major tonal shift and it works to set the tone for what’s to come. The second short, director Bonnie Discepolo and co-writer Trevor Munson’s DTF, is far more comedic, tracking a woman (Jennifer Holland) and a man (Parker Young) as they meet via a sex app, DTF, and then go to his place to consummate. Their conversation, though, turns to family planning and she pulls up her lawyer to make what they’re about to engage in legally binding as she has no interest in caring for a child. What occurs between the characters and through the film is played entirely straight by the actors resulting in several comical moments. It’s a total 360 in energy from The Voiceless, but its punchline hits about as hard, demonstrating that women aren’t the only ones with a part to play when sex happens. But where The Voiceless and DTF convey clear messages, others require more to understand, such as director Monica Moore-Suriyage’s Medi-Evil, leaning on strong imagery and inference to communicate meaning. The visuals are striking in Medi-Evil, the tone somber and terrifying, yet there’s something missing to clearly convey its message beyond women as subjects for experiment, little more than insects in the eyes of their keepers. It’s not that there’s something wrong or bad about Medi-Evil, it’s just that there’s something, from this reviewer’s experience, missing to connect the message of the short.
Personally, the ones that engaged me most, outside of the aforementioned The Voiceless and DTF, are director Caitlin Hargraves’s Sweetie, writer/director Megan Rosati’s Plan C, writer/director Avital Ash’s God’s Plan, director Valerie Finkel’s Crucible Island, and writer/director Loren Escandon’s The Last Store. These are comedies and dramas which use the removal of safe abortion access to explore, directly and indirectly, the truths that exist in regards to safe medical care for women. In one, it explores how the government steps in as a surrogate when a mother dies in childbirth. The character being Hispanic allows for the film to address the already real concern of higher-than-average morality rates in minority women compared to Caucasian women. In another, an evisceration of the idea that the only thing women should do for birth control is exist in a committed relationship, addressing the Pro-Life talking point that ignores partner abuse, financial insecurity, and a whole host of other reasons why commitment is not a cure-all. Where my heart hurt the most is the short which harkens back to the time before Roe V. Wade, when women had to go to back alleys to get medical help, turning people who would defy an unjust law into criminals. Though there’s often a bit of tonal whiplash from one short to the next, the only tether being the demonstrable rage at the Supreme Court and the patriarchal system that cares not for personal freedom as it relates to the individual, the diamonds within Give Me An A shine through the rough.
If, by its conclusion, you’re unsure of what the stance for Give Me An A is, you’re not paying attention. It minces no words and suffers no fools. It is, by and large, preaching to the choir, using art to channel their disappointment, fear, rage, and fury. Those who already side with a woman’s right to choose are going to feel spoken to, perhaps even for, but the ones who would and should receive this message, are the least likely to give it a chance. Maybe, given the large number of celebrities that appear in the casts, someone will get curious, taking a chance on one or all of the shorts as they come available outside of a festival setting like Fantastic Fest. Those are the ones who need this film the most because women’s bodies are being further commodified by this repeal and the best weapon against it all is awareness. The back alleys are about to be back in business and the stories within Halevi’s Give Me An A are rightfully pissed.
Screening during Fantastic Fest 2022.
For more information, head to the official Give Me An A film support page.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.