Written, directed and lead by Anna Margarita Albelo, co-written with Michael Urban, after turning 40 and experiencing a midlife crisis, filmmaker Anna meets Katia, who becomes her muse and inspires her to write and direct an all-female remake of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Also starring: Guinevere Turner, Janina Gavankar, Agnes Albright and Carrie Preston.
Even without diving into any elements of the finished product, it’s refreshing to see a project lead and created by so many women, it’s always great to have a film made by women in front of and behind the camera. It would be hard to deny that the basic idea for the film sounds fantastic, it’s ripe for a comedy caper meets romance, and that’s basically what you get but what’s most surprising about it, is that’s presented in a way that’s muted and timid. While you may expect to get something edgy or biting from this, it’s sadly nowhere to be found, instead the visual and comedy blend together to follow a tone that’s more akin to a Netflix teen rom-com. It’s extremely disappointing to see that the film played it so safe, from the clichéd cheesy narration to the basic comedy writing.
The performances are good, and they follow the tone that’s been set but that just furthers the issue that the film lacks any rawness or feel of reality, everything’s too shiny and easy. Anna (Albelo) is a decent character to lead the film, but they’re trying to push a hard life style narrative that’s sadly unconvincing, it’s too simple and the struggling artist story has been done to death. Some of the attempts to add depth to her character are undermined by that overpowering rom-com style. That cheesy streak running havoc with the story means there’s no real room for genuine emotion to get through, everything feels empty and one-note because it’s all too clean and superficial.
The set-up of adapting this legendary play is ironically old-fashioned, something that’s reflected in the entire film, it’s approach to the story feels like something you might have seen in films in the 80s or 90s. It’s the film’s biggest issue, it simply doesn’t have any edge or grit to it, one of the things that’s so amazing about the female lead projects coming out recently is that they’re honest and unforgiving but this is unfortunately far in the opposite direction. It’s a strange combination to have a group of middle-aged lesbians and have the story play out like it’s an American teen movie, the themes fit in with post-high schoolers unable to find a sense of direction, bickering and falling out with their friends. The comedy unsurprisingly follows that same tone, it’s shallow and much too easy with cheap vagina jokes and not much else, so when it briefly tries to enter darker territory, it simply doesn’t work. It also doesn’t help that the plot is very predictable.
Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf had a concept that was exactly the type of content that’s needed in today’s landscape, more LGBTQ focused comedy and drama but it doesn’t fulfil that potential at all. Instead what we end up with is something between sit-com and teen rom-com but ultimately doesn’t offer anything fresh or authentic, too largely influenced by overly stereotypical visual and writing styles. Ultimately the film falls down a rabbit-hole of sentimentality and never escapes.