You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

SXSW Film Review: ‘M.F.A.’

Francesca Eastwood gives a tough, eye-opening performance in this otherwise uneven rape-revenge thriller.

Francesca Eastwood, Clifton Collins Jr., Leah McKendrick, Peter Vack, Marlon Young, David Sullivan, Michael Welch, Mike C. Manning, David Huynh

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5091530/

Whatever its flaws, Natalia Leite’s “M.F.A.” certainly doesn’t suffer from timidity. Offering an unapologetically feminist, female-centric take on the oft-problematic (and oft-male-gaze-dominated) rape-revenge thriller genre, as well as addressing recent controversies over college campus assault in bold strokes, the film never shies away from righteous provocation.

As admirable as its aims may be, however, “M.F.A.’s” themes call for a careful, consistent tone that it is rarely able to maintain, and an increasingly ridiculous third act squanders much of the empathy and engagement that Leite works so hard to build in the early going. As a survivor-turned-avenger whose bloody campaigns against her own rapist and others’ become fuel for her art, Francesca Eastwood delivers a tough, eye-opening performance in the lead role, and her character’s vengeance packs a cathartic punch. But too much of the film fails to rise to her level.

Noelle (Eastwood) is a shy, withdrawn fine arts grad student at a fictional Southern California university, finding just as much difficulty fitting in socially as she does impressing her classmates with her pencil sketches. She’s thrilled when a good-looking classmate (Peter Vack) invites her to a party at his place, but soon after she arrives, her lures her upstairs and viciously assaults her.

The rape scene is difficult to watch, and Noelle’s catatonic initial response is vividly rendered by Leite’s clinical staging and Sonya Belousova’s unnerving score. Adding insult to injury, Noelle’s attempts to responsibly report the attack are greeted with apathy. Her next-door neighbor (screenwriter Leah McKendrick) advises her to try and forget about the whole incident, and when she visits a school administrator to file a report, she’s all but ignored. Finding no help — including with the university’s rape advocacy group, who would rather deal in abstract terms with awareness-raising hashtags and fundraisers than tackle the assault epidemic on their own campus — she goes back to her rapist’s apartment to confront him herself; in the struggle that ensues, he flips over a stairwell railing and falls to his death.

Initially, Noelle is both shocked and unexpectedly empowered by the turn of events, and channels the trauma into her art, winning praise from her previously nitpicky peers for her dark, newly confident canvasses. But when she learns of a videotaped gang-rape committed by a trio of frat boys on campus, she resolves to take more direct action.

When the focus is purely on Noelle and her transformation into an almost Punisher-esque vigilante, Eastwood (daughter of “Dirty Harry” actor Clint) owns the screen with her quiet fury. But all too often, the film gets in its own way. Supporting performances are uneven, and Noelle’s understandably difficult budding relationship with a nice-guy fellow artist (David Huynh) is oddly handled. Glimpses of the local authorities as they ineptly investigate her killing spree tend to stop the movie dead in its tracks, and in the build-up to a big climax, the film abandons all nuance and severs several connections to reality. Leite directs with a bracing, assertive style, and “M.F.A.” is admirably eager to probe sensitive topics, but without a solid narrative underlying its advocacy, it doesn’t hit as hard as it should.

SXSW Film Review: 'M.F.A.'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (competing), March 13, 2017. Running time: 93 MINS.

Production: A Villainess Prods. presentation. Producers: Shin Shimosawa, Leah McKendrick, Mike C. Manning. Executive producers: Mariah Owen, Kelvin Parker, Rob Angel.

Crew: Director: Natalia Leite. Screenplay: Leah McKendrick. Camera (color): Aaron Kovalchik. Editor: Phil Bucci.

With: Francesca Eastwood, Clifton Collins Jr., Leah McKendrick, Peter Vack, Marlon Young, David Sullivan, Michael Welch, Mike C. Manning, David Huynh

More Film

  • Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born

    The Message of the Oscar Nominations: You'd Better Have a Social Message

    Each year at the Left Coast crack of dawn, when the Oscar nominations are announced, there’s generally at least one major nomination many pundits were predicting that fails to materialize. When that happens, entertainment media tends to rise up as one and say the s-word: snub. In truth, it’s not usually a snub; it’s just [...]

  • Elton John and Mark Ronson

    Elton John to 'Shallow' Songwriter Mark Ronson: 'You're Going to Win the Oscar'

    Elton John is willing to bet that Mark Ronson will win the Oscar for Best Original Song for “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born.” The nominations were announced this morning. The legendary performer spoke to Ronson on the latest episode of his radio show “Elton John’s Rocket Hour” on Apple Music’s Beats 1.  “You’re having a [...]

  • Olivia Colman Colin Firth Helen Mirren

    Playing a British Monarch Is a Step on the Road to Oscar Glory - Again

    “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” Shakespeare wrote of Britain’s care-burdened monarchs. Try telling that to the Academy. Once again, playing British royalty has proved to be a tried-and-true route to Oscar glory, with Olivia Colman as the latest actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for portraying an occupant of the British [...]

  • Black Panther Movie

    Oscars: 'Black Panther' Leads Best Picture Nominees to Near-Record Box Office Grosses

    This year’s Academy Award nominees proved the Oscars don’t need a popular film category to recognize movies with huge box office grosses. The 2019 crop of best picture hopefuls have generated an impressive $1.26 billion so far in North America alone. That bounty is led by “Black Panther,” which earned a sensational $700 million at [...]

  • oscar nominations 2019 stream online

    How to Watch This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Films

    The 2019 Oscar nominations have been announced, and if you want to catch up on the nominees, we’ve rounded up some easy ways to watch or stream the original films, documentaries, and songs competing for an award. Period comedy “The Favourite” and Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” lead the pack with 10 nominations apiece, while “Green Book” [...]

  • Pawel Pawlikowski "Cold War"

    Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Makes History for Poland

    Alfonso Cuaron might’ve tied an Oscar record with four nods to his name for “Roma,” which scored 10 nominations overall. But another black-and-white film in a foreign language, Pawel Pawlikowski’s jazz-infused romantic drama “Cold War,” was honored with three Academy Award nominations Tuesday, the most in history for a primarily Polish-backed production. The film will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content