“There are 19 named male characters in Proud Mary, but just 2 named women."
Title: Proud Mary (2018)
Director: Babak Najafi 👨🏽🇮🇷
Writers: John Stuart Newman 👨🏼🇺🇸, Christian Swegal 👨🏼🇺🇸, and Steve Antin 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Proud Mary is objectively awful, teetering on a razor’s edge of being so bad it’s good. The plot is your standard "one final job" setup that passes as a thinly veiled excuse to have an action heroine take out body after body, with slow-motion acrobatics, to the stirring tune of a defining, 1960s hit single.
Luckily, our Mary is up to the task of making something out of nothing. In the lead role, Taraji P. Henson outshines the content while Jahi Di'Allo Winston, in the role of 13-year old Danny, is its other saving grace. Together, their chemistry is electric and their comedic banter put me (and the theater audience) in stitches during the film’s more successful moments.
If only the entire stretch consisted of their act! Unfortunately, magnetic as they are, Mary and Danny cannot save this project alone as others sleep on the job. Literally, I think Danny Glover, in his role as crime boss Benny, is either asleep or severely medicated for each of his scenes.
In short, I’ll quote Ty Burr from the Boston Globe:
“Where the movie falls and can't get up is in the dialogue, the camerawork, and the editing.”
Did I mention this is a really bad movie? And yet, somehow, I found myself enjoying it. Go figure.
For an action movie that stars a female lead, you would think Proud Mary would slay in this category. However, its conception comes from such a bone-deep place of old-school masculinity that gender inequality seems to come with the package.
For example, out of the named characters of the film, just two are female: the titular heroine, plus the minor role of Mina who is Benny’s wife, played by Margaret Avery. Mina is complete filler. She appears in just one scene and plays an oblivious wife and mother, content to live in her nice home and to stay out of mens' affairs.
In comparison, fully 19 male characters have names—Tom, Danny, Walter, Benny, Luka, Jerome, and on, and on. This doesn’t even include the scores of nameless men who flesh out this world in such heavily-skewed proportions, it makes you wonder if any women live in Boston at all.
On the flipside, Proud Mary still gets above-average points for having a lead female in a complex role. Mary easily commands half or more of the physical and narrative space. And while her backstory feels decidedly concocted from a male imagination—Mary’s killing spree is driven by her biological urge to nurture and protect a child so that she may adopt him and spend the rest of her life in breezy, domestic bliss—I was mostly too distracted, cackling at the film's gratuitous murder rampages, to actually care that Mary’s motivations are pretty tropey.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 40% of creative decision-makers were POC
The cast of Proud Mary feels neatly split between black and white characters, but the emotional space is commanded by black lives. Within this group we see a wide variety of relationships—father and son, as Benny and Tom (Billy Brown) respect each other but differ slightly on how to operate their gang; husband and wife as Benny is seen genuinely loving Mina; complicated exes as Tom still cares deeply for Mary; adversaries as Mary and Benny circle each other like a cobra and a mongoose; and finally, the newly-formed bond between Mary and Danny which fuels both the heart of this film as well as its much-needed comedic levity.
By focusing on black characters, Proud Mary is a welcome reprieve from the legions of white-centered action movies that already saturate the genre.
Mediaversity Grade: C+ 3.50/5
If you want some mind-numbing fun, and if you find bad acting and amateurish editing to be an ironic boon instead of a total bore, then you could do worse than seeing Proud Mary. After all, Taraji P. Henson is one of TV and cinema’s most exciting actors to watch. Even while the rest of the film collapses around her like a poorly made soufflé, Henson gamely holds up her end of the bargain.