Free the Nipple
Free the Nipple, semi-satirical propaganda film, not rated, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 1 chile
Free the Nipple was written and directed by Lina Esco, who plays this film’s protagonist, a twenty-something journalist named With, who lives in Brooklyn. In real life, Esco got involved with an anticensorship movement to “decriminalize women’s bodies,” and this is the movie she and her fellow activists made about the crusade. In it, she witnesses a topless run on Wall Street by women who wind up getting arrested, even though it’s been legal for women to go shirtless in public in New York City since 1992, and then meets the run’s leader, Liv (Lola Kirke), a self-described social revolutionary.
This earnest, misguided little film is a fine example of exactly the wrong way to use storytelling to further a political cause. It’s billed as satire, but what’s being satirized is a mystery. The only targets seem to be the women in the movement — the characters we’re supposed to be rooting for — who are intermittently revealed as self-righteous, naive fools, but the movie takes itself so seriously that the moments of satire don’t make sense, and they certainly don’t make the cause seem vital. Worse yet, the dialogue is didactic and expository; most of the acting is uncomfortably amateurish; cringe-inducing improvised scenes are worse than the scripted portions; the soundtrack is too loud and prominent; and huge swaths of time are wasted on silly, twee shots of the subway, of people dancing and doing impromptu Pilates in a dirty squat in Red Hook, and of hair. The under-90-minute running time feels interminable after the first 30.
Audience members interested in the topic of public female nudity will be disappointed that the ideas behind the Free the Nipple movement aren’t discussed in any depth until the film’s last five minutes. The characters don’t use the language of social justice or feminism, nor do they have a background in the history of censorship. It seems impossible that these women didn’t learn any of this in college or that they don’t read blogs that discuss these issues. They are schooled in censorship by a fifty-something male journalist (Zach Grenier) in a scene that smacks of educational films and that raises the question, Who is this movie for? Free the Nipple doesn’t tell a story well, nor does it indoctrinate well, unless the target audience is young enough to never have thought critically about gender equality or the representations of women’s bodies we see every day in the media.
Body block: women protesting on Wall Street