Hello, and welcome to installment two of Maddie Gets Serious About the Oscars. Today I’m discussing a film that appears to be the biggest Oscar bait since La La Land. That’s right, it’s Mank, David Fincher’s latest. The film is based on a screenplay by Fincher’s father, which I think adds another layer of awards interest. A good story is often key for a good campaign, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
First I feel like I should say that I didn’t love this film. It’s good, but it’s so not my thing. I’m always just so bored when it comes to angry, unstable men trying to make their art. Like I get it. I do. This is an interesting story about a figure I didn’t know anything about! The movie is about Herman Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane. And look, I’m studying film at school, but I also got bored watching Citizen Kane. The only reason I stayed awake for it is because I didn’t want to embarrass my cute professor. But I get it. And I get why Mank is an Oscar film. It’s an interesting story about Old Hollywood, and it’s nice to look at because it’s black and white, and adopts the aesthetics of the time.
It’s also a weirdly political film that talks a lot about Upton Sinclair, and shows Mank as a socialist. Mank wasn’t a socialist, and was not a big fan of unions. Still, this is one of the most compelling parts of the film. I don’t think they leaned into it enough, and maybe it’s because Fincher didn’t want to make it anti-Hollywood because like we’ve said, Oscar bait. It’s not like, say La La Land, that fully glamorizes Hollyoowd. It explores the shady dealings Hollywood engages in when it comes to politics, and that’s interesting and good. But it’s not always enough. Mank is a movie that never quite says enough.
It also doesn’t say enough when it comes to its female characters, mainly Marion Davies, played by Amanda Seyfried, and Rita Alexander, Mank’s secretary, played by Lily Collins. Marion Davies is a figure I didn’t know a lot about and I wish I did! In case you guys don’t know about Marion Davies, she was married to William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for the main character in Citizen Kane. Davies is said to be the inspiration for Susan Alexander, one of Kane’s wives, who wasn’t particularly talented, but Kane wanted to use his wealth to make her a star. Obviously this hurt Davies’ career and to put in bluntly, led to a lot of shit talking. Orson Welles felt bad, but too late dude. Her life was ruined. Anyway! Marion Davies is only in about six scenes of this film, and they’re all standout moments. In fact, they were the only scenes I was completely invested in. She comes off as smart, charming, and talented. I appreciate that this film shows her this way, and I hope it leads to more stories about her. Particularly, I hope there’s a whole Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies film. She’s such an interesting woman, one I am not qualified to write about.
The other female character that stood out is, of course, Mank’s secretary. And she’s a very likable, but not layered character! She has these almost great moments, where she openly tells Mank what she thinks of his script, which she is typing. She also has a sweet side plot about her military husband being lost overseas. Her characters adds a lot of softness and levity to this film that feels so hard and dark to me. Also, its redeeming performance for Lily Collins, who annoyed us all in Emily In Paris last fall. But she definitely seems like this old Hollywood stereotype of sassy working woman, but maybe on purpose? I can’t tell what is intentional about this film.
So let’s dive into this film’s Oscar chances, which are good. Amanda Seyfried is great in this film and I think will win Best Supporting Actress, which feels very validating as Les Miserables stan and a queer woman (thank you Jennifer’s Body). Her performance is the most interesting. Lily Collins is good, but not a standout. All of the supporting male performances blend together, except Joseph Cross as Charles Leader, because he’s cute, and Tom Burke, because he’s playing Orson Welles. But I don’t think they stand a chance. Gary Oldman plays the titular role, and I think he could get in, but the Best Actor category is stacked already and I didn’t love his performance. He either doesn’t stand out enough, or is standing out too much, depending on the scene. So I’m pretty lost on that. But this is technically a great film, so I think Fincher will get in Best Director, I think he and his father will get into Screenplay, and probably into editing, maybe costumes, maybe other smaller categories. Also I think it gets into Best Picture, because it appeals to the people who love old Hollywood and love making movies, as well as younger Academy members who might dig the socialist commentary and the moments that show how corrupt the industry is. It just feels like a big awards movie.
Overall, I am not a fan of unhinged men ruining their own lives and still winning an Oscar in the end, which is what the movie is. If this film leaned into politics more, or Mank’s instability, or his relationship with Orson Welles, then it could be great. It doesn’t though. Mank is a film that doesn’t ever do enough and the best thing to come of it is the Marion Davies conversation. Make her movie, please!