‘Good Madam’ Features Great Performances in Uneven Film
Prospects did everything they could with this one.
good lady is an A24-era inspired psychological thriller that attempts to comment on apartheid. Although he tells you his subject, he never gives you a thesis. It’s such a shame because there’s something here that you want to root for. However, something is missing from the movie to bring all the good parts together. So it feels hollow when it collapses in your hands.
good lady follows Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa), who is forced to move in with her estranged mother Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe). Tsidi’s grandmother raised her but recently passed away. His death gave the men of the family a way to take the only home Tsidi had ever known. Mavis is a devoted servant who has worked and lived with Diane for decades. The movie plays with the idea that Mavis’ devotion might be caused by some malevolent force.
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I have no doubt about it good lady was done with good intentions. However, about thirty minutes later, I Googled the writer and director. I knew I would find it was someone who hadn’t had the experience they were trying to get a comment on. This film gives the impression that someone has studied racism, classicism and apartheid. They took notes and are now trying to put them together while still too far from the experience to get it.
I love that we have a mostly black cast. However, some characters and relationships are missed because it was someone who didn’t feel the weight of those topics trying to comment on them. This comment feels like an exploration of what they believe to be a black family still grappling with the fallout of apartheid. This makes it a slow-burn spectator sport and an uncomfortable watch for those with thoughts based on lived experience. There are twelve writers listed on this film. So I can’t lay all the blame on writer/director Jenna Cato Bass. Again, Bass probably means well, but this movie feels like something is missing at every step.
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We see Tsidi’s reaction to the idea of her family forcing her brother into their home while she is still grieving. As a black woman, I know these family dynamics and the disrespect of yours. So, I waited to see the backstory, but we never got it. I understand what it’s like growing up with systems in place to make you feel like less of a person. Seeing Tsidi trying to make her mother understand that Madame is not leaving her room and that she does not have to continue like this is heartbreaking. However, it looks like the filmmaker is more determined to make Tsidi an angry black woman instead of breaking the surface to find out why she’s angry.
There are plenty of reasons to feel the way she feels. Rage is probably part of it, but ultimately it’s another black woman trying to survive. Angering her as a path to getting to an unreliable narrator feels sloppy in a film that should examine the impact of racism on three generations of black women. I could write several essays about how Tsidi’s family is repeatedly let down by this film. However, they would all come down to the importance of needing more black female directors. It’s a conversation no one seems to want to hear.
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The performance is excellent and is the reason I finished good lady. Cosa and Mtebe are doing their best to fill in the holes and give us the characters we deserve. The movie also sneaks in a few disturbing moments, so that spooky atmosphere doesn’t get lost. That 92-minute runtime might have scared us more seeing how it refuses to process the intergenerational trauma of the situation.
Tsidi’s daughter Winnie (Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya) is not given the connective tissue to work with as a third generation. I understand its unrealized purpose, but again I had to fill in the gaps with my experiences. Audiences need to connect the dots for her with the message of the movie as a whole. It’s sad because these systems impact every generation, and this character could have been used to bring that home.
I think there were some good ideas that got lost along the way. good lady is held back by having someone so far removed from experience at the helm. I think it’s worth watching if you’re willing to imagine the movie it wanted to be and support those actors. However, I can’t find many other reasons to watch this one.
Tell me what you think about this movie @misssharai.
“Good Lady” may have good intentions, but something is wrong. However, the actors are phenomenal and worth watching.