Trying to sell my friends on dark comedies is a recurring theme in my life. I have been asked multiple times “how is this funny?” before, and maybe none more than when I push “In Bruges” on people. Martin McDonagh is the king of dark comedy, and Three Billboards was no exception. The viewing experience was peppered with sharp intakes of breath followed by nervous laughter, with audience member’s eyes darting around as if they were nervous to be caught laughing at something less than politically correct.
Let’s start with the stellar performances. This has been a really great year for movies and the upcoming schedule looks crazy competitive, but I think McDormand, Rockwell, and Harrelson have nomination potential here. In particular I think about the scene with McDormand’s and Harrelson arguing in the police station, where Mildred goes from yelling at the police chief to immediately comforting him once he coughs blood on her unintentionally. The shift in attitude was sudden, but honest, and showed that her character isn’t on a pointless witch hunt, she is just trying to keep the spotlight on her daughter’s case.
While the story is obviously unsettling, there were some pretty outstanding jokes. Whether it was McDormand ranting at a priest, Lucas Hedges’s character testing his limits cussing in the house, or my personal favorite, Mildred yelling at the newscaster on the side of the road, they were all the sort of shocking humor that kept the movie feeling fresh. Which is a feat, considering the overwhelmingly depressing subject matter.
I know this isn’t perfect, especially considering the current social climate. There are some unexplored issues, such as race driven police brutality, domestic abuse, and vigilantism. You can’t look at things only through one filter in real life, but in the context of film, I understand what story McDonagh was telling, and think he succeeded. 8.5/10