“Molly’s Game takes away Sorkin’s biggest Achilles’ Heel—writing complex female characters—by basing his story off a woman’s autobiography.”
Title: Molly’s Game (2018)
Director: Aaron Sorkin 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writer: Original book by Molly Bloom 👩🏼🇺🇸 and screenplay by Aaron Sorkin 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
I love a good Aaron Sorkin script: the wit, the speed, the compelling egos and dramatic crashes back down to earth. He leaves none of this behind in his directorial debut, Molly’s Game, which is typically fast-paced and cocksure, full of snappy, theatrical dialogue. Luckily, instead of sitting on his haunches for what could have been another predictable anti-hero, Sorkin (finally) updates his work by stepping into a pair of designer heels to tell the story of Molly Bloom, played by Jessica Chastain, an Olympic-level skier and the self-made woman who ran the most exclusive underground poker tables in Los Angeles and New York City in the aughts.
This decision gives Sorkin’s work a much-needed breath of fresh air. I only wish the movie had a firmer hand at the cutting board; the pace sags halfway through, and as much as I enjoy Molly’s voiceover narration, the seemingly never-ending flashbacks and flashforwards quickly grows tiresome.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Sorkin is notorious for his inability to write women. His decades-long body of work presents a parade of sycophantic females who satellite the sun of whichever egomaniacal male he has chosen to render at the time. Imagine my relief, then, when Molly’s Game takes away Sorkin’s biggest Achilles’ Heel by basing his story off a woman’s autobiography. The translation is brilliant; Molly Bloom is exactly the kind of confident savant done in by her own brilliance that Sorkin loves to portray, and feminist icon Jessica Chastain is the perfect vehicle in which to temper Sorkin’s blind spot.
Without changing her elegant, soft-spoken demeanor, Chastain delivers a commanding performance that leaves no room for doubt about who the main character is. Supporting roles trail after her in share of dialogue by proverbial miles. And although she indeed is surrounded by a supporting cast full of men, with the potential for a problematic conclusion about her broken relationship with her father, the film ultimately tiptoes away from over-analyzing her “daddy issues” and instead leaves the story firmly in the capable hands of Bloom, as it should be.
Idris Elba plays a fairly large role in the film as Bloom’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey, and true to form, he brings heart and texture to his character. Standing as proxy for the audience, Jaffey begins the film unconvinced of Bloom’s innocence. But the more he gets to know her, as we do through Bloom’s flashbacks, the more we all realize how she is a victim of circumstance and, in fact, worthy of our deepest respect.
If only more Idris Elbas populated this world (and ours!). Numbers don’t lie: among the top 25 listed actors on IMDB, just Elba is non-white. While we do see short scenes with Jaffey’s precocious daughter, and their depictions are positive and warmly tendered, the film as a whole underrepresents people of color, especially for a story set in Los Angeles and New York City.
Mediaversity Grade: B+ 4.25/5
If you’re like me and you cringe at the overt sexism in Sorkin’s work, but power through because you love his dialogue, then Molly’s Game is going to put a smile on your face. This is a hugely enjoyable film that brings the glamour of staggering wealth—and portends the dangers of drug use—without the glorification we see in films like The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Spring Breakers (2012), or other Hollywood films that worship American excess.
I sincerely hope that in the future, Sorkin continues to expand on strong, complex women and people of color without having to pigeonhole them as standalone beacons in a sea of straight, white men. Molly’s Game is a wonderful addition to his oeuvre, and a necessary one as culture marches forward, demanding more modern and relevant stories to keep up with a quickly diversifying audience.