Biography Drama

Portrait of a Suffering Artist: A TIFF Review of ‘Wildcat’

September 13, 2023Ben MK

The soul of an artist is as elusive as it is beautiful. Still, that hasn't stopped filmmakers from trying to capture some of that beauty. From Basquiat and Frida to Shakespeare in Love and Almost Famous, there's something about the creative passion which inspires artists of all mediums that has proven irresistible for moviegoers. It's a magical quality that, in turn, has led to the creation of some amazing works of cinematic art. And with Wildcat, it's Ethan Hawke's turn, as he steps into the director's chair for a film about American novelist Flannery O'Connor, as played by his daughter Maya.

Less of a traditional biopic and more of a loose character study, the movie focuses on the period in the author's life between 1948 to the early 1950s. From the abject rejection she faces in trying to get her first novel published to her battle with Lupus and her tumultuous relationship with her mother Regina (Laura Linney), viewers are granted a glimpse into how O'Connor's Catholic upbringing and the racism of mid-century America influenced her writing. Interweaving such scenes with recreations of key segments and snippets from O'Connor's vast body of short story work (in which Maya Hawke and Linney essentially play variations of Flannery and Regina), Hawke Sr. and co-writer Shelby Gaines are also able to shed some indirect light on the inner workings of O'Connor's mind. However, thanks to this unorthodox approach, that insight is communicated on a much more abstract level than genre aficionados might be used to, which means those seeking to glean some hard facts about the real-life person best known for writing "A Good Man is Hard to Find" may be left disappointed.

Suffice to say, the result isn't for everyone. For while the film succeeds on many levels, delivering a clear and concise portrait of Flannery O'Connor isn't one of them. Bolstered by strong performances from Hawke and Linney — and even a surprise cameo from Liam Neeson — there's no doubt Wildcat is a handsomely acted period drama. Just don't expect to leave the theater knowing much more about its subject than you did going in.

Wildcat screens under the Special Presentations programme at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 48 min.

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