I had a wickedly fun time with the enormous crowdpleaser WICKED LITTLE LETTERS, which has been my biggest surprise of the Festival. A period black comedy, this film is an absolute treat and a ton of fun, both in the darkly funny story and in the performances from Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, and the rest of the ensemble. I didn’t hear a louder audience reaction for any movie than I did for this one, both in laughing out loud and cheers by the end. Bottom line: if you want to see Olivia Colman in her best comedic role yet, spouting some extremely dirty lines… all with a slight grin on her face, this movie is for you. If I’m being honest, it felt like this movie was made for me.
Based on a true story, the film is set in the 1920s small, conservative English village of Littlehampton. When filthy poison pen letters start appearing in the mailbox of pious churchgoer Edith (Colman), calling her every name in the book, everyone suspects her foul-mouthed neighbor Rose (Buckley). Edith and Rose had been friends, despite their very different upbringings, but things fell apart due to a misunderstanding… which is when the letters began. Although this appears to be an open and shut case, Woman Police Officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) suspects there is something else going on here and gathers a group of like-minded women to prove her point.
Without getting too much into spoilers, I really appreciated that the filmmakers didn’t take too much time in the whodunnit of it all. I think they expect most savvy audience members to be in on who the likely author is early on, so they don’t take too much time drawing it out. This makes for an even meatier and hysterical second and third act, where we are all in on it together.
I love that screenwriter Jonny Sweet lambasts the gossipyness of small town life and the misogyny that permeated through society especially in the early 1900s. Elements like having to include gender in a female police officer’s title and being seen as an old decrepit spinster if you are unmarried in your 40s play to comedic effect for sure, but also make a statement about that period of time, which we can still see reflections of today.
While this is at its heart an ensemble film, it should be no surprise that Olivia Colman really runs away with the movie; how could she not with such a juicy role! She gives a deliciously hilarious performance, with the best moments being glimpses that there may be some devilishness beneath her character’s piety. Her facial expressions alone had the audience in the palm of her hand! But more than that, she shows her character’s complexity; she’s not a one-note conservative woman, but is more multilayered than even she realizes… and affected by her own trauma derived from her father’s domineering, misogynist behavior.
Jessie Buckley is also delightful as she is in every other movie, reuniting with Colman (after THE LOST DAUGHTER) to serve as a worthy, foul-mouthed adversary. She is the oil to Colman’s water and when the two go toe-to-toe it is magic on-screen. You are constantly rooting for their next encounter. Anjana Vasan, who you may recognize from KILLING EVE, was also a welcomed addition. She almost acts as the embodiment/voice of the audience, trying to solve who is behind the letters and ensuring justice is served. She leads a really fun (and funny) supporting cast of women.
WICKED LITTLE LETTERS is definitely one of my favorite films I saw at TIFF and one of my favorite movies I’ve seen this year period. After the movie ended, I turned to my movie critic friend and told her I had no notes; this movie was perfection. I haven’t laughed so hard out loud at a movie in quite some time. To say it is a f*cking good time (taking a note from the film) would be an understatement and I cannot wait for it to get released… just maybe make sure you don’t have any sensitive ears lingering around. It is a movie you won’t soon forget and one that I imagine will have many GIFs and memes to boot. I know I’m ready for the red band trailer!
My Review: A