A few years ago around Valentine’s Day, my husband Kurt and I were driving home from a weekend in Wisconsin and stopped in a gas station. I was looking at a display of DVDs packaged as last minute Valentine’s Day gifts, when I noticed the plastic cases of Terminator 2 and The Thomas Crown Affair shrink-wrapped together with stickers advertising “His” and “Hers.” You can guess which movie was labeled as which. This immediately caused me to rage out, as one does whenever one encounters reductive gendered marketing cliches. Obviously, I had to buy gas station cheese curds to calm myself back down.
The Thomas Crown Affair is one of Kurt’s favorite movies. He also loves rom coms much more than I do, and enjoys the cozy, comforting feeling of settling in for two hours of Sandra Bullock pratfalling her way to love. Meanwhile, I love action movies and opt for all the car chases, roundhouse kicks, and blood spatter. I see every Fast & Furious and comic book movie in the theater, preferably opening weekend.
I have to admit that originally, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) wasn’t really on my radar--I prefer the MCU over the DCEU, and never got around to Suicide Squad. However, around its opening weekend, I started seeing articles pop up that peaked my interest. I knew the movie centered around Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, but learned that screenwriter Christina Hodson and director Cathy Yan set out to create a girl gang movie. Furthermore, Harley’s male-gazey wardrobe from Suicide Squad had been revamped into a new lewk that was all about what Harley herself would want to wear--absolute chaos but make it fashion. An action movie that combines overt girliness with mindless violence? Count me in!! I bought tickets for Kurt and me to see it on Valentines Day after our annual dinner date at Red Lobster. (I know we live in a world class food city, but we love Red Lobster. Around the second or third time we drove to the closest suburban location, I asked Kurt “At what point does this stop becoming ironic and is just our regular life?”)
Birds of Prey begins with Harley Quinn redefining her own identity outside of her relationship with her now ex-boyfriend, the Joker. Post-breakup, she behaves in a lot of relatable ways, like squirting Easy Cheese into her mouth while sobbing, giving herself bangs, getting wasted at da club, and joining a roller derby league. She also does many non relatable things, like breaking a man’s legs and blowing up a toxic chemical factory. But, despite the many heightened comic book moments, I thought something I literally never thought I’d think while looking at Margot Robbie: I AM HER.
There’s many things I loved about the Birds of Prey movie, but at the top of the list is that the main heroine gets to be MESSY. In one scene, Harley gets so trashed that she passes out in the back of Black Canary’s car. The most romantically filmed moment in the film is between Harley and a bacon, egg & cheese breakfast sandwich (a.k.a. my every Sunday morning). In the biggest action sequence of the film, she opts to wear roller skates. The film only includes a few brief roller derby scenes, but the entire time, I thought to myself This is a roller derby movie. The very DNA of Birds of Prey reminds me of the three seasons I spent as a skater for the Windy City Rollers (plus another very sweaty year as a team mascot in a ninja costume). It focuses on Harley’s personal evolution and the women she meets along the way who come together over a shared goal. THAT’S DERBY. Any of my friends who have witnessed me do drunk push-ups in a parking lot would likely agree. I love Wonder Woman and all, but she would never steal a sequined fanny pack while shoving a bacon sammich in her face.
I can’t put into words how much I loved seeing an action movie that obviously had just as many women behind the camera as it does in front. During a scene in which the girl gang takes on dozens of henchmen, Harley offers Black Canary a rubber band to keep her hair out of her face while throwing punches, and the moment feels downright revolutionary. On the topic of representation, it blows my mind that in 2020 the Year of Our Lord Meghan Markle, it is still groundbreaking for an action film to feature an ensemble cast of diverse women. Cathy Yan is the first woman of color to direct a DCEU movie, and I have to give a shoutout to Ella Jay Basco who plays Cassandra Cain, because we need more famous Filipino people in this world beyond Manny Pacquiao (yikes) and Bruno Mars (loooove). When I was in college studying theater, my mom used to cut out any articles in the Arts section of the newspaper about Asian-American actors, screenwriters, and directors and mail them to me. I loved that she did that, showing me that not only was she supportive of my dream, but that people who shared my heritage were succeeding in creative fields. In 2004, she even mailed me an article touting the upcoming release of a comedy called Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, and to this day I forever have a soft spot in my heart for that film, even despite that unfortunate “Battleshits” scene.
Anyway, if you like bad-ass girl gangs and roller derby, I recommend seeing Birds of Prey. It is a literal confetti cannon of chaotic, cheeky energy straight into the dour, gloomy Gotham of earlier DCEU movies. Right now, I’m feeling kinda inspired to pull a Harley and send a gasoline truck careening into the factory that makes “His” and “Hers” promotional stickers.