[Fantasia Festival 2019 Review] A Good Woman is Hard To Find

“A good woman is hard to find,” The Bible tells us. But what is a good woman? According to that psalm passage, a good woman is someone skilled in the crafts of home. Who’s diligent in homemaking. Who only speaks when she has something worthwhile to share. Who outclasses all other women. But mostly, who is God-fearing and, it’s implied, submissive to her husband who’s out there doing grand things.

Rather patronizing, yeah?

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Writer Ronan Blaney and director Abner Pastoll seem to have a different perspective on womanhood in A Good Woman is Hard to Find. And while written and directed by men, it has a feminist idea at the heart of it that exposes the systematic oppression of vulnerable people. Heavy stuff, but the subject matter is even heavier.

Recently widowed Sarah (Sarah Bolger) is having a hard time keeping her family afloat. Her husband was knifed to death in front of her son Ben (Rudy Doherty), rendering him mute. And while Sarah believes her husband was an innocent man, the paper has named him a drug dealer while the police ignore her pleas for vengeance because they consider the murder just criminals killing criminals. Her daughter Lucy (Macie McCauley), meanwhile, has a bad habit of parroting back what people say, like when her grandma Alice (Jane Brennan) says the word “bitch.”

Immediately we know their situation is rather dire as the film opens on Sarah walking through a grocery store with her kids, a shopping list priced out to the last cent clutched in her hands. And when Ben takes a piece of candy that catches the eye of an overbearing grocery assistant and forces her to pay for it, she has to give up food items to pay for it. Things get worse when, on the way home from her overbearing mother’s house, a desperate criminal named Tito (Andrew Simpson) breaks into her house and demands she hide his recently stolen drugs.

She wants nothing to do with him or the cut of money he offers her. But he doesn’t give her much of a choice, threatening her life and her children. But he’s stolen the drugs from a local kingpin named Leo Miller (Edward Hogg), who spouts philosophical quotes and gets way-too-angry when people don’t know the difference between a simile and a metaphor.

As Tito keeps coming back, day after day, making himself more and more at home, Sarah realizes she’s on her own and has to take matters into her own hands.

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The world crafted by Ronan Blaney is grim and desperate. Sarah is forced to deal with a system that seems to exist solely to keep her down and toss her aside, doing everything in its power to destroy her. It’s not difficult to see some political themes here, as cops and social services turn a blind eye to her problems. While it’s not a political movie, per se, it does show the systematic oppression of vulnerable members of society.

For example, everywhere Sarah turns, she’s told she’s not good enough. “You’re too soft, Sarah. Always were,” her mother scolds her. The police tell her to let sleeping dogs lie when she tries to get answers on the murder. Social services survey her recently broken into home and the beer cans Tito left as a sign she’s an unfit mother. “What is it with women like you?” she’s asked by police examining her house after a noise complaint.

Even the drug dealing Tito, when he sees a picture of her younger, happier self, tells her she needs to get it together. He’s just another asshole, telling her she’s not good enough. He compares her to the “teases” or “sluts” he meets at bars. She’s continually running into walls as the system that’s supposed to be there to protect her and help her constantly fails.

She begins the movie meek and unsure. Dark circles line her eyes. Her hair is unkempt and she looks like she’s full of tightly-coiled rage. Sarah reminds me of a similar Good Woman I’ve recently seen in The Swerve; trying desperately to keep everything together while the world conspires to fuck her up.

But slowly she starts to gain her confidence back. Sarah is desperate to find out who killed her husband, yes, but she also is desperate to find her footing. And by the end, she puts the biblical idea of a “good woman” through its paces. Good women aren’t hard to find, you’re just not looking.