Hollywood scandal could boost ‘Three Billboards’
Already an Oscar contender, TIFF winner sees more buzz due to focus on sex assault
It’s got a heck of a long title, but Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri just might be the movie of the moment. The new film from Martin McDonagh ( In Bruges), in theatres on Dec. 1, roots itself in the fury of a mother, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), whose daughter has been raped and killed and seemingly forgotten by laconic local police. Dissatisfied with an investigation that’s going nowhere, Mildred sends the authorities up in flames by renting three billboards outside her small town.
In block letters, the caustic mom takes on the police chief (Woody Harrelson), demanding to know why more isn’t being done.
Now, industry observers are wondering if increased topicality may send Three Billboards cresting a wave of indignation past best picture favourites such as Second World War tales Dunkirk and Darkest Hour.
“This was going to be a best-picture contender anyway,” says Anne Thompson, editor at large for film news site IndieWire. “This is just adding wind to the sails.”
After a strong debut on the fall film festival circuit and a 97-per-cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film arrives in cinemas as conversations around sexual harassment and assault are hitting a national high, with allegations in every sector.
That’s not necessarily enough to push it to the top of the best-picture race at the Oscars, says Tom O’Neil, founder of awards prognostication site GoldDerby.com. “I don’t think it’s a realistic rival to win at this point. But that can change,” he says.
What’s notable this year, he says, is a best-picture category that looks stacked with films about the female experience, from The Shape of Water and Three Billboards to I, Tonya and Lady Bird.
“It’s rare that films shot from a female perspective are welcomed to the Oscar race in the best picture contest,” he says.
So far, audience reaction has been telling. In September, Three Billboards was a surprise winner of the audience award at Toronto International Film Festival. More recently, Fox Searchlight moved the film from a comedy contender to the more competitive best-drama category at the Golden Globes.
And historically, voters like to send a message on Oscar night, O’Neil says.
“Oscar voters are not all the time voting for the best movies, but the most important ones,” he says. “Movies that make a statement.”
Frances McDormand stars in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.