Movie Guru: “Birds of Prey” gives Harley Quinn a chance in the spotlight and it’s glorious
‘Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn’
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material
Written by: Christina Hodson
Directed by: Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Ali Wong and more
Grade: Three and a half stars out of four
“Birds of Prey” is a movie by women, and for women.
Of course, you’ve got to be the type of woman who appreciates things like mayhem, beating up a bunch of people who deserve it and sticking it to some real jerks. It also helps if you’re a fan of one of DC’s most lovable villains/anti-heroes, Harley Quinn, who finally moves out from under the Joker’s shadow and really gets a chance to shine.
Or maybe you’ve just been waiting desperately for a fun, violent, female-led action movie. That works, too.
“Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” is perfect for both fans of Harley and women who enjoy kicking things. Director Cathy Yan and writer Christina Hodson have created an action movie with such a deep and abiding understanding of what real women are like that it just might bring a tear to your eye. It has the wonderful added bonus of finally giving Harley the respect she deserves, and introducing her to a whole new set of fans just waiting to fall in love with her, too.
The movie starts with Harley (Margot Robbie) narrating a brief summary of her early years, capping off with a brief mention of 2016’s “Suicide Squad” and a breakup with the Joker that happened sometime afterward. This leads to an emotional journey familiar to anyone who’s had to get over the breakup of a healthy relationship, with the addition of a huge explosion and a lot of violent people wanting Harley dead. Add to that a face-stealing mob boss, a missing diamond, a crossbow killer, a stressed cop, a young thief and a singer on the run from her past. You’ll find it’s a busy week in Gotham.
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There’s already been a lot of talk about the scene where Harley gives Black Canary a hair tie in the middle of a big fight, but that’s really just an example of a feeling that pervades the entire movie. “Birds of Prey” is firmly from a woman’s perspective, an intersection of tough, messy, interesting women fighting with and helping each other in ways both big and small. You may never have had to fight off a city full of thugs in the middle of a horror funhouse, but you’ll still understand these women on a fundamental level.
Even better, these ladies are a fantastic variety of hot mess. We have an unrepentant teenage thief, an equally unrepentant raging alcoholic who isn’t taken seriously enough at work, a wildly awkward assassin and a woman just trying to get by. This is what people really mean when they say “strong female character.” It’s not about their ability to win a fight — it’s about the thought and imagination put into these characters, which is grounded by a distinct realism.
Queen of them all is Harley Quinn. It’s clear how much Margot Robbie loves the character, the real kind of love that embraces her flaws and all. She’s a mess for most of the movie, so obviously mentally unstable that it affects the actual narrative flow, but she’s also brilliant, determined and oddly sweet. The more time I spent with her, the more I fell in love.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.