At First Glance: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

When you stumble upon a film trailer, there’s no telling what you’ll end up thinking. You’ll either love it, hate it or just question why it even exists at all. Perhaps some cautious optimism may be needed because the trailer itself is making it hard to form a first opinion. In this case, it could very well be that the trailer was badly constructed. If this happens, hopefully that’s the only problem as too many trailers have managed to cause many more, which are usually avoidable, and the finished film suffers because of it.

The upcoming Fox Searchlight Pictures film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is looking like it’ll supply the rare and perfect blend of comedy, drama and an overall compelling mystery. It’s a tough act to get right, but if you’ve got the right everything, from writer and director all the way to distributor, then you’re bound to find success in some form. This is one of those times where getting excited for a film simply because of what’s offered in the trailer is worth far more than thinking of its awards prospects. Although, mind you, thinking of the impact a film like this could have come awards season isn’t without its perks. It’s just plain fun. The only thing I’m hoping for this film, other than it be as amazing as it looks, is that a wide enough audience gets a chance to see it and hopefully love it.

Humor And The Misfortune Of Others

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It’s not every day that you have humor pulling you through the grief of others or yourself. Yet, in small ways, that is precisely what is being done with this first trailer. They say laughter is the best medicine, and while I have no idea if that’s even the tiniest bit true for anyone, it certainly seems to be what’ll make this film standout and be one you want to become invested in. It appears to be driving so many different aspects of this film and is what makes this trailer worth watching, even after four previous viewings.

Primarily, there’s the comedy overall. It’s going to be rampant and I’m already confident that it’ll actually work because it’s smart. It’s not what you typically expect from comedy films, and that itself is worth getting excited about. From the looks of things, there’ll be some physical comedy and bodily harm, which will probably be quite hilarious, some snarky quips and sarcasm, and other genuine moments that just flow, even when slightly more dramatic. Take that brief scene when Woody Harrelson’s answering the phone at dinner with his family and apologizes for cursing in front of them. Or the scene when Harrelson confronts Frances McDormand about why she put up those billboards. It’s not really constructed in the way most comedies are. There’s no set up and execution, which typically leads to a joke falling flat fast. There’s also no need to force anything. These two moments, among so many more we haven’t seen, just show how through natural and organic moments, not to mention good performances, comedy can come in at surprising and welcome times.

Not only will the comedy flow and provide much needed balance with all the drama in this film, but the characters, especially McDormand’s will be defined, in part, by the sarcasm and snark, which has thus far proven to be funny. As that’s not the only way we’ll see McDormand or any of the others developed, what exactly will we get or could we get? We’ll clearly get some personal insights into Harrelson’s family, and as McDormand’s leading this charge for justice for her daughter, we’ll see how her murder affects McDormand. Clearly she’s rightly pissed off, but as it’s only been seven months, how much is she still grieving? Has she channeled much of that grieving into anger and action? Is some of the sarcasm and angry quips we see just because she’s pissed off, or has she always been this way? If this isn’t fully the case, I’m sure I can live with this. Having a bold and brash character like McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is definitely not a negative. I welcome it. And then there’s Harrelson and the other characters. How much of a role does humor play with them? Are they all just clever like McDormand seems to be? How will they all change with this sudden need to confront and actually solve the mystery of who killed McDormand’s kid? There’s so much here, but I am truly under the belief, or maybe I’m just hoping this is the case, which will ultimately give me a better film, that the humor that flows in and out, plus the drama and the mystery that grows the characters, are all a must to get right. If not, then the film will somehow be off and not as good as it appears to be.

An added plus regarding the use of comedy is how this film’s already being marketed. The studio released a red band trailer. And that’s it. Nothing else. As far as I can recall, that’s not something that’s typically done. Usually after a regular green band trailer or in conjunction with one, but not as the sole trailer. While I can’t say at all if a film with both benefits or not, it’s usually more fun when watching the red band version. This may be true here, but it’s not the only reason. I find that because of the freedom this trailer was given, you could instantly see who everyone was and what type of film this would be. Now you can’t really be surprised, and hopefully, you already know what you think of these characters. I love them already and am absolutely intrigued by them. That and it’s pretty damn hilarious! I laugh every single time. It’s just so well cut and gives me a lot to get excited about.

Expected Release Date: unknown (as of this writing)

Written and directed: Martin McDonagh

Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage

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