Complex Heroines

Always a move ahead
Always a move ahead

I thought my character, Peppa, might be unlikable sometimes, until I saw Jessica Chastain portray an ambitious lobbyist in Miss Sloan. In comparison, she makes my analytical, occasionally arrogant heroine look like a cuddle-bunny.

Jessica Chastain gives a galvanizing performance, all pale face and wide staring eyes, angles and porcelain. She could be the supercilious Dr. Strange’s twin. Yes, she is shrill. She’s supposed to be. The New York Post states in their one-star slam: “Heavy-handed message movies don’t come more harrumphing than “Miss Sloane,” a clunky dramatization of the gun-control argument liberals still don’t understand is being conducted solely among themselves.”

The reviewer is missing the point completely. What the film is asking us, the audience, is whether we will accept lobbyist Miss Sloane as a heroine, whether we can pardon her manipulativeness and desire to win at all costs, given that the outcome is exposure of corruption. Just watching her, as she shames members of her team that don’t measure up and uses a vulnerable woman to whip up public sentiment against the gun lobby, is an experience that is acutely uncomfortable. We understand that she avoids all intimacy, and that every encounter is reduced to a transactional experience. I actually admire director John Madden for resisting the temptation to reveal a back-story that will make us empathize. We only know she had to lie all through her childhood, and that she has insomnia. He keeps us, as well as the fictional characters who come into contact with Miss Sloane, in the dark about the anguish that makes her so focussed on winning, so brilliant but unbearable.

Without divulging all the twists and turns, as she says, she holds the trump card. Her triumph is also her undoing. Like the scorpion, she stings so hard, that it seems she poisons herself.

Or is she looking for release?

Enigmatic and compelling, admirable and distasteful, Miss Sloane is at once broken and magnificent.