Oz the Great and Powerful Screws Over Woman So A Dude Can Find Happiness
By Alex Cranz
Somewhere there is a grave, a simple little grave. The corpse lying in the grave is old and probably all dried out–so stiff and fragile that a tug could break it. But that will not stop that corpse from rolling over and over and over when it learns that Oz the Great and Powerful exists. Why would that guy be rolling like a stone down a hill? Well, it’s the body of L. Frank Baum, the son-in-law of a suffragette and early feminist, and he would be incredibly annoyed that his series of books specifically written to encourage young girls was transformed into a story about a douche trying to get his dick wet.
Oz, besides being the shortened name of the rightful queen Ozma, and the name of the land where the adventures take place, is also the name of James Franco’s magician. He’s a turd of the highest order. A womanizing fellow who preys on the most gullible women imaginable and is a jerk to the one guy who hangs out with him. Watching people interact with him and look at him with any measure of fondness you will be compelled to say “you can do better.” Franco imbues the guy with ample amounts of sleaze, convincingly making Oz out to be someone no one in Kansas will ever miss and someone everyone in Oz should run from.
Which is a bad thing, because he’s a reluctant hero! He just wants to be great and loved and is kind of dumb in how he goes about it. Yet Franco may be the first guy saddled with that “heroic” stereotype to play it so honestly awful. “Oh you want to be extraordinary,” you will say to Oz as he passionately talks about his dreams, “maybe stop being a selfish jerk and actually do something with your life.”
Guys, Oz turned me into my dad.
There are some good things about the film. Sam Raimi is, as always a fantastic director and he brings his usual impeccable eye to the proceedings, paying homage to 1930s filmmaking while also providing it with a modern twist. The opening black and white sequence may be tedious in its development of Oz (I seriously was repulsed by him) but it’s also absolutely gorgeous with the wonders of Oz’s circus world straining to burst from their black and white, 3:4 screen confinement, and sometimes succeeding. When things expand into color it’s a subtle transformation. Easing us in before unloading a bevy of vibrant colors meant to mimic the Technicolor wonder of the 1939 film.
The homage to the seminal Judy Garland film doesn’t stop with Raimi’s filmmaking. Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis all eschew realism to bring an arch quality to their characters. They play everything as big and bold as the film’s color palate. Williams and Kunis even go a step further–employing the mannerisms and vocal stylings of Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton, the original Glinda and Wicked Witch of the West respectively. For geeks of classic cinema it is a wonderful fan letter. Its as geeky as when Raimi’s friends the Coen Brothers went and made Hudsucker Proxy as an ode to screwball comedy–but it isn’t quite as successful, as much as it pains me to say that.
Franco isn’t bad as much as misplaced. He’s playing super sleazy James Franco. He’s a modern guy in a top hat surrounded by heroines and villains from a 30s musical. I can sort of understand the idea behind his casting, but he’s so utterly lacking in charm in the role that it strains credulity when all these people start liking the guy. It doesn’t help that as written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire some of these characters are just…stupid. The tales of the three witches, the best characters in the whole thing, are truncated so we can see Oz’s “arc” and it’s a massive sacrifice of their intelligence–though not their agency. These women all have agency…or they have what’s left of agency after they all blindly ascribe to a prophecy about a foreign wizard who will come to their land, end evil and become the new king and give up nearly all of their power and desire to see that prophecy either quelled or successful.
That’s the core problem–not Franco (he helps), but this character he plays and the complete perversion of Baum’s original stories and, more importantly, their purpose. Imagine finally getting a Wonder Woman film and having it be all about Steve Trevor. It’s that knee jerkingly offensive and it’s troubling because despite there being an extremely popular Oz story out there that focuses on women and has a huge built-in audience this story about a guy trying to find himself like a dozen other guys this month alone is what gets directed by someone amazing like Sam Raimi and populated by the three actresses stuck playing second fiddle to Franco.
It’s a depressing show of just how awful and entrenched sexism in Hollywood is when a movie starring Oscar winner Rachel Weisz, Oscar nominee Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis can’t get made until the story has a guy shoehorned in.
There is one nice little thing though. If you can get through the bitter pill of this film essentially being about women giving up power so an unworthy guy can establish a patriarchy then the already excellent Wizard of Oz becomes, not a film about Dorothy stopping an evil witch, but about Dorothy re-establishing the matriarchy. Stick it to ‘em Dorothy.
- Michelle Williams is so tremendous as Glinda. The way she channels Billie Burke without becoming a caricature is extraordinary. She plays Glinda with that same blend of teeth hurting sweetness and underlying darkness. It reminds you that Glinda basically lies to Dorothy through all of Wizard so she can get her to kill a witch and unveil the Wizard’s deception. I’m on to you Glinda the “Good” and I like all of it.
- I won’t spoil who the Wicked Witch is because that’s rude but the actress seems to be having a lot of fun playing her, even if her whole arc is about her being that crazy ex-girlfriend that should be taken out behind the stable of common character tropes and shot.
- Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz as sisters works better than it should. This is a return to Mummy form for Weisz. That’s a very very good thing.
- Seriously, fuck whoever thought a movie about Oz wanting more from life was a better film choice than a Wicked adaptation.
- The land of Oz is populated by Munchkins, regular people and Tinkerers who can build anything and are also all men. I side-eyed so hard I hurt myself.