A 2021 Film Journey: Day 120

I need to figure out my sleep schedule. This is coming out super late, but this is just where I am right now, I guess. On the bright side, I feel like I have a little more direction in the movies that I am going to watch over the next bit of time. In the past decade, I have done quite a bit of Criterion Blu-ray collecting, and my collection has vastly outpaced the films I have actually watched. So, for the next month or so, I am going to attempt to watch an unwatched criterion release from my shelf.

My Brilliant Career (1980, Dir. Gillian Armstrong)

My Brilliant Career (1979) directed by Gillian Armstrong • Reviews, film +  cast • Letterboxd

My Brilliant Career may be the most clear-cut example of a “women’s film” ever created, but I do not mean that in a disparaging way. Gillian Armstrong’s sophomore feature checks off many of the cliched boxes for those films. It is a period drama/ romance where a young woman rebuffs the dated ideas of what a woman’s role in the world is. In this way, the film has a significant amount in common with Armstrong’s most well-known film Little Women (1994), and much like with her take on that classic Armstrong elevates the formulaic story into something special.

What enhances these tales is Armstrong’s respect for her leads. Sybylla (Judy Davis) is a woman ahead of her time, but rather than fully endorse the anachronistic protagonist, Armstrong paints a picture as woman whose flaws enhance her complexity. Sybylla’s objection to marriage come from a place of self-actualization, but they also leave her alone and longing at times for the simplicity of the women around her. By embracing this dissonance, My Brilliant Career takes a simple formulaic story and builds an engaging and wonderful picture.

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