As I ease back into blogging, I’m going to start a series called Movie Monday because, well, we watch a lot of movies. And I always have thoughts. For my inaugural Movie Monday post, I’m going to tackle Mank, an Oscar hopeful.
The movie centers on Herman Mankiewicz, a screenwriter, as he struggles to finish Citizen Kane in a timely fashion for Orson Welles. The film goes back and forth between Mank’s writing the screenplay and flashbacks that inspired the story behind it. Here’s the thing: if you don’t already know all about Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst, Louis B. Mayer, and Citizen Kane, then I’m afraid you’re going to be lost. Heck, I frantically googled other writers and other aspects of the story while watching the movie because I have more than passing knowledge of 1930s Hollywood and sometimes still got lost.
Also, Gary Oldman shines as the sharp-witted Mank, but either I need to get my hearing checked (likely) or you’ll need to turn up the sound/turn on the subtitles to make sure you don’t miss any of the jokes.
The film is beautiful. I love the black and white, the difference between the desert where Mank is writing and recuperating and the Hollywood of his flashbacks. Amanda Seyfried is captivating as Marion Davies. Tom Burke reminds me so much of a young Orson Welles that I did a double take. Arliss Howard is exactly as I pictured Mayer, right down to the infamous scene where he asks all of his studio employees to take a 50% pay cut because the studio isn’t doing well. He says he’ll pay them back. Spoiler alert: he does not. Bonus? Bill Nye the Science Guy as Upton Sinclair.
Speaking of Sinclair, that’s an interesting twist to this saga. In the film, Mank’s sympathies definitely align with Sinclair and the socialists. Mayer, a staunch Republican, is so against Sinclair that he and Thalberg create testimonials against Sinclair using actors. This is a thing that really happened. While interesting for the movie, I don’t know if Mank was ever that concerned with politics. I only mention this to say that I think Fincher manipulated these events to create a parallel to Citizen Kane, so enjoy the film as more of a love letter to 1930s Hollywood than an accurate history. Mind you, a lot of the character portrayals are accurate, but I don’t know about the events. It’s Hollywood, baby!
As a nostalgic character piece, Mank succeeds. As a cohesive story….eh. One, the film doesn’t really focus on the race to complete Citizen Kane, and that would’ve been a fabulous ticking clock. Two, the movie doesn’t really get that into the feud between Welles and Mank over who gets credit for the screenplay; that part feels kinda tacked on. The resolution feels…deflated? Diffused?
Mank’s last flashback with Hearst is his drunken tirade at Hearst’s Castle, a whole thing about Don Quixote and Dulcinea that I might’ve appreciated more if not for his comparison between Davies and Dulcinea, and this the obvious implication that Davies is a whore. (Or maybe I’ve read too much Don Quixote) Since Mank was known for burning bridges through his drunkenness and caustic wit, I suppose it’s accurate in spirit rather than fact, but I’d grown so fond of Seyfried’s Davies, that I didn’t care for it at all. Then Hearst’s dancing monkey reply was…fine. Both it and the Don Quixote allusion felt forced to me.
I suppose Mank is messy…like life.
As a woman–and that’s how I’m always going to view films, especially those made today–I’m not as enamored of Mank as I could be. He’s obviously a jerk to his wife, Sara. Speaking of, as much as I enjoyed Tuppence Middleton’s measured performance, I really wish they had cast someone close to Oldman’s age to play the part. She is so much younger than Oldman, and it’s glaringly obvious. The real Sara was the same age as Mank. When I saw Emily Nunn’s tweet about how older women are erased in movies, it resonated. Not only that, but there was the scantily clad woman in the writer’s room. It reminded me of the secretary in Blazing Saddles. I don’t doubt it happened, but, heck, an explanation, please?
I couldn’t help but wonder why we don’t have more movies about people like Goodrich and Hackett (Call me Hollywood. I’d love to come up with some fantasy story about the Hacketts writing The Thin Man) or Frances Marion–her life should be a television series. Hey, Mank liked to chill with the Algonquin Round Table, what about Dorothy Parker?
If you love old Hollywood, then Mank was written just for you. Perfect? No, but then again what is? It’s a visually beautiful movie with great performances, and it’s worth the price of admission to see Mank’s razor-sharp wit as performed by Gary Oldman. I couldn’t help but want something more.