Absolutely all over the place, loud, bright and crazy
Prior to Birds of Prey, Cathy Yan was a relatively unknown director. Yan’s directed three shorts and one feature before, but has pretty much remained off the map. Until now.
With this Harley Quinn-focused DC film, the director makes quite the entrance into Hollywood. If I were to describe the style of the film in one word, it would be “manic.” The film was full of colourful, saturated images that burst with a soundtrack consisting of original and covered hip-hop and pop tracks. However, the film’s writing fell short.
I absolutely loved the look of Birds of Prey. It doesn’t shy away from vivid colour palettes, distinguishing it from other DC films. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), breaks the fourth wall, and Yan depicts this with on-screen text inspired by comic book aesthetics. The soundtrack to Birds of Prey is definitely awesome on its own, featuring songs from artists like Doja Cat, Saweetie, Charlotte Lawrence and more. It adds an extra level of energy to a film that’s already full of it. However, during some scenes, the music was overbearing and distracted from the story itself. Often, these songs played during fight scenes, and since they don’t always carry along the plot, watching them felt like a music video rather than a film.
The premise is very simple, Harley Quinn goes after teenage thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) to save her from Gotham’s new evil menace: the Black Mask. Cain swallowed a diamond containing information valuable to Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). However, this premise was overly convoluted due to the non-linear structure of the film and its fast-paced editing. The non-linear storyline didn’t seem to add anything valuable to the film and instead made it a little rusty. There were offbeat tonal changes. Some scenes felt very out of place, particularly those with violence against women (which was included in the film to emphasize the intensity of the villain’s character.)
The performances were fun and hilarious, with Robbie and McGregor in the lead, and Basco, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Chris Messina supporting. Robbie gives an exaggerated and amusing performance. McGregor takes the cake, managing to play an awful person while still being ridiculous and weird. In terms of acting, everyone is on their A-game and delivers the right amount of absurdity without being irritating.
Ultimately, I loved Birds of Prey’s sense of personality. The film was obviously from Harley’s point of view, and everything in the film supported that, from the loud music and wild colouring to its odd story structure. Even the production design feels like it belongs in a Harley Quinn movie, including weird, provocative decor, abandoned amusement parks, and colourful nightclubs.
Even with its issues, Birds of Prey knows Harley Quinn well. The film was all over the place, loud, bright and crazy. But in the end, Yan wasn’t afraid to use her own style and because of that, Birds of Prey is a load of fun.
Illustration by @joeybruceart