Picks of the Week is Women and Hollywood‘s newest resource. W&H writers are often asked for recommendations, so each week they’ll spotlight the women-driven and women-made projects—movies, series, VOD releases and more—that they’re most excited about. (Sign up for the Women and Hollywood newsletter at womenandhollywood.com to get each week’s picks delivered to your inbox!)
Written and Directed by Lulu Wang
The Farewell solidifies Awkwafina as a multi-faceted actor. The Crazy Rich Asians breakout really surprised with such a heartfelt performance in this film.
Based on a true lie, per the press information, The Farewell stars Awkwafina as Billi, a floundering New York City-based artist who returns to China with her parents to see her beloved grandma, who has been diagnosed with advanced cancer. As is tradition, the family decides not to tell Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) that she only has a few weeks left.
Billi has a really hard time with the lie, and tries to convince her father that Nai Nai has a right to know she is ill. As the whole clan grapples with this impending huge loss, they also remind each other how important family is. The Farewell is a moving family tale about love, connection, honesty and pain. (Melissa Silverstein)
The Farewell opens July 12.
Sword of Trust
Directed by Lynn Shelton; Written by Lynn Shelton and Michael Patrick O’Brien
When does reckoning with the past become reveling in it? When does moving on become shirking responsibility? If we love someone with abhorrent beliefs, are we condoning said beliefs? These are the questions Lynn Shelton considers in her eighth feature film, Sword of Trust.
The catalyst for the Birmingham, Alabama-set pic is an antique sword Cynthia (Jillian Bell) inherits from her deceased grandfather. It appears to be a Civil War relic—a Union weapon to be exact—but according to Cynthia’s grandpa, it’s actually proof that the South won.
Cynthia and her partner, Mary (Michaela Watkins), are horrified by their family’s buried racism and conspiracy theories. But that doesn’t stop them from trying to profit from it. Enter Mel (Marc Maron), a cynical pawnshop owner, and his sweet flat-earther assistant, Nathaniel (Jon Bass). The four of them team up to sell the sword to a terrifying sub-culture of history deniers.
Sword of Trust is simultaneously a slice-of-life story and a wry take on our country’s severe political divide. You feel as if you know these characters. As such, the cast’s lived-in performances are as much of a draw as the central staring-into-the-abyss concept. (Rachel Montpelier)
Sword of Trust opens July 12 in NY. It will expand to additional theaters and hit VOD on July 19. Find screening info here.
Created by Moira Buffini and Alison Newman
The bawds are back. Continuing in the tradition of its first two seasons, “Harlots’” third outing is written, directed and produced entirely by women—and is as soapy, fun and thrilling as ever.
With her mother shipped off to America and Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville) in the insane asylum, Charlotte Wells (Jessica Brown Findlay) is now London’s top madam. But she isn’t able to enjoy her status for long. A pair of tavern-owning pimps threaten to take over her enterprise. Power struggles ensue, johns are (mostly) easily manipulated, and sworn enemies end up in bed together.
The most pleasant surprise of Season 3 might be the character development of Lucy Wells (Eloise Smyth). She’s no longer a skittish newbie nor a kept woman used as a pawn: she’s an aspirational bawd in her own right. Lucy teams up with a couple of new characters to open a “molly house”—a brothel catering to gay men—with a swagger that would make the other Wells women proud.
As pleasurable a watch as “Harlots” is, it’s far from fluff. The series never loses sight of the many ways society trapped women in the 18th century. The harlots themselves are freer than their married, noble counterparts, but they’re still often at the mercy of men. “Harlots” is also smart enough to acknowledge that the patriarchy is hell for plenty of others, namely people of color, queer folks and the poor. What’s wonderful about this show is witnessing the disenfranchised fighting back with everything they’ve got. (RM)
Season 3 of “Harlots” premieres July 10 on Hulu.
“I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter”
Directed by Erin Lee Carr
Michelle Carter made national headlines for encouraging her then-boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to commit suicide via text. The teen was instantly infamous, and regardless of whether folks thought she should be held legally accountable for the death or not, the widespread consensus was that Carter was a monster.
“Mommy Dead and Dearest” director Erin Lee Carr digs deep into the so-called “texting suicide case” in her latest true crime project. Her two-part HBO doc, “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter,” complicates this narrative by looking beyond the fatal incident and into Carter’s life, illustrating how she was struggling with demons of her own.
“I love complicated women,” Carr told W&H in an interview. “I am drawn to women, their stories, and what society says about a crime,” she explained. “I wanted to know more about Michelle’s motives. Ultimately, I would discover a lot more than her motives.”
The doc doesn’t offer any easy answers about Carter’s guilt and culpability or lack thereof—instead, it’s a refreshingly nuanced look at a case that makes for perfect tabloid fodder. (Laura Berger)
Part 1 of “I Love You, Now Die” premiered July 9 on HBO. Part 2 was broadcasted July 10. Both are available on HBO GO and HBO NOW.