The term “nasty woman” is one that was frequently thrown around this election cycle, originating from none other than The Donald himself. Although President-elect Donald Trump undoubtedly meant it as an insult to Hillary Clinton during the final presidential debate, in the months following, it has morphed into a phrase intended to praise hard-working, ambitious women. An innovative woman in charge is a nasty woman. A woman who isn’t afraid to push against the boundaries that have been unduly placed around her is a nasty woman.
Elizabeth Sloane is a nasty woman.
In the new political thriller Miss Sloane, Jessica Chastain (The Help) is Elizabeth Sloane — a fierce, formidable gun-control lobbyist intent on dominating Capitol Hill. Not that she particularly likes her job; her only goal is to win the game. She’s brutal, she’s dominating and, yes, sometimes she’s just downright nasty.
From the very first shot of Chastain’s intense, concentrated staredown, it’s clear that the entire film rests on her shoulders. By the second scene, she proves that she is more than capable for the job. While Chastain has been in similar no-nonsense roles (Maya in Zero Dark Thirty comes to mind), she truly outdoes herself when capturing the essence of Elizabeth. She manages to pull off being both cold and heartless while projecting an incredible sense of vulnerability. While other actors such as Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mark Strong deliver strong performances in their respective supporting roles, it’s essentially an unapologetic, one-woman show — and it’s fantastic.
Beyond Chastain’s incredible performance, though, is the blunt message the movie clearly sends — that women in power are women who need to be reckoned with. What’s typically found in these types of political dramas is the tiring “alpha boss man” trope. That male character is all too familiar, swooping in to save the day when the female lead is found to be ultimately powerless to defend herself. Either that, or it’s the redundant comments about being beaten by a woman, or how he can’t believe a woman can be more successful at her job than him. Almost none of that rhetoric exists in Miss Sloane. Of course, male characters find themselves frustrated with Elizabeth, but it has nothing to do with her gender. Instead it has to do with her skill set and her unwavering ability to get what she wants, when she wants it.
All that being said, I find it hard to immediately label this movie as a model feminist piece. I’m not saying that every great movie has to be full of feminist ideals; if that were the case, the list of stellar movies would unfortunately be pretty slim. But with the overarching “bad bitch” themes in Miss Sloane, it could be very easy to hail the piece as a great feminist ideal when in fact that might not be totally accurate. On the one hand, the portrayal of Elizabeth as a confident, independent woman who refuses to be held back by any means, least of all her gender, is extremely liberating. On the other hand, a large portion of her success is built off tearing other women down. There’s no doubt she would have done the same thing if these women happened to be men, but the fact that her status profits at the hands of other women is at its core against the feminist agenda.
But even if Miss Sloane doesn’t represent an ideal brand of intersectional feminism, there’s no doubt that it remains a fantastic movie. Jessica Chastain’s fantastic acting and a fast-paced, intelligent plot lend themselves to perhaps one of the best movies of the year.