Finally, we need to talk about We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Just in time for Mother’s Day! Go hug your mom before you watch this movie.
It’s been a few years since I first watched this movie, and I’ve forced myself to watch it a couple more times. I love the content and the story, but this movie adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s book (of the same name) is a frustrating experience. Much like Kevin and his problems, I have avoided talking about it because it’s nearly impossible to talk about my issues without spoiling the movie.
I hope you watch We Need to Talk About Kevin. This movie is streaming on Netflix and you should give it a chance for Tilda Swinton alone. The acting is captivating and as close to perfect as possible. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Tilda Swinton (Eva) and John C. Reilly (Franklin) are terrific. The shocker is that Ezra Miller is outstanding as the titular Kevin. This is the only thing I have enjoyed Ezra Miller in—though I now remember him in a small recurring role on the TV show Californication. Even Jasper Newell and Rock Duer perform admirably as the younger versions of Kevin. The casting is so impressive because Jasper and Rock both resemble Ezra Miller so well. Ashley Gerasimovich is also solid when she’s on the screen as the younger sister (Celia). These actors deserved to be in a better movie.
That’s not to say We Need to Talk About Kevin is a bad movie.
It is not bad, per se. But I consider it a massive disappointment and missed opportunity.
Personally, I still found parts of this movie to appreciate despite its downfalls. I just have no idea who this was made for and why anyone without a critic’s mindset would like this movie. According to the ratings on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, the audience actually appears to enjoy this movie as much as the critics enjoy their own farts. My qualms are not with the acting or source material.
I believe We Need to Talk About Kevin fails as a whole because the story is not told coherently—due to director Lynne Ramsay who co-wrote the screenplay with Rory Stewart Kinnear.
But why does this method of storytelling fail?
We know exactly what happens within the first 5 minutes.
I understand how the narrative of the book was told reflexively from Eva’s point of view looking back on her life, family, what Kevin did, and how she is trying to cope with the fallout. That way of storytelling does not work with the medium of film. Why? Because it removes all of the suspense and tension.
Instead of being the thriller that it is incorrectly billed as, this movie immediately turns into a melancholy drama. For 2 hours, you are forced to watch Tilda Swinton shift from postpartum depression after Kevin’s birth to zoned-out, zonked, and just going through the motions in the present day. The flashbacks with Keivn are inarguably the best parts of this movie. From the start, the movie teases a massacre at the high school with police cars and parents outside screaming.
It is a complete disservice because it removes all of the emotional impact—taking what should have been a very powerful punch and spreading it incredibly thin across the entire runtime.
Telling the story in a straightforward manner would have kept the audience on the edge of their seats wondering what the hell Kevin was going to do rather than already being aware of the end result. On top of knowing Kevin committed a school massacre, you also know he killed his sister and dad. Apparently, that is supposed to be a big reveal in the book because the story is told through Eva’s letters written to her (presumed) estranged husband. But when you don’t see John C. Reilly or their kid in the present-day scenes in the movie, you absolutely know they are dead along with everyone else. When the movie finally catches up and shows the flashback to the day of the massacre, it didn’t make me feel any certain way. I was just glad they finally arrived at the destination.
In a sense, showing you countless scenes of Tilda Swinton’s character gripping with guilt challenges the audience to be bored with the emotional gravity. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was among the bored. And I’m someone who actually liked this movie. But it felt like beating a dead horse.
The way this story unfolds is counterintuitive to the point they’re trying to make.
The question at the heart of this movie: who is at fault? Who can we blame?
No one, really. A lot of factors are involved—no one handled anything properly and both parents probably made it worse—but I don’t feel like anyone is truly responsible. Not even Kevin himself. It’s a battle of nature and nurture rather than nature vs. nurture. Maybe I’m completely wrong (it certainly is possible), but that is not the sense that I got from watching this movie.
Because of her overwhelming guilt, Eva takes responsibility for the massacre in this movie. Tilda’s character even agrees to pay damages to the victims, which forced her to sell the house and her business—financially ruining her already ruined life. Director Lynne Ramsay alludes to the blood on her hands with several heavy-handed scenes of Eva trying to remove red paint that was thrown on her house and car. She has blood on her hands and is washing her red hands clean.
Through the flashbacks, you see Eva physically and emotionally abuse Kevin from a young age. She hits him, breaks his arm, and openly doesn’t love him. Without a doubt, Kevin is a twat, but he never deserved any of that. It is no surprise to see the way he turned out with his visible rage and disgust for his mother. The movie also glazes over any of the father’s culpability by ignoring the obvious issues and warning flags. John C. Reilly’s character is the one who encouraged Kevin using his bow and arrow—giving him the best equipment, which Kevin turned into a murder weapon.
To a degree, it feels like genetics and his awful abusive mother at fault.
I can’t help but blame Lynne Ramsay for that. I can’t imagine that was her intention, but it was the result. I love Tilda Swinton and she was superb with her shell-shocked look, but her character came across a shrill shrew. After a while, it becomes too hard to sympathize with Eva.
On the other hand, I was extremely engaged and invested in every scene with Ezra Miller. I kept wanting more He was a charismatic, mysterious sociopath. One scene where Kevin is talking about people on TV watching TV (because people like him are on the TV) is extraordinarily effect and evoked memories of Mickey Knox’s TV interview with Robert Downey Jr. in Natural Born Killers. I consider that quite a compliment to Ezra Miller to compare him to that iconic Woody Harrelson performance.
I wanted to bathe in that fucked-up brain.
You get so few opportunities to see things from Kevin’s perspective. I didn’t need that to be the entire movie, but this depiction does not give you any satisfying introspection. With such a great character, I wanted more nuance. In the movie, Kevin is simply evil and his mother is being crippled with guilt trying to come to terms with things because she feels directly responsible.
As a result, Kevin is more of a one-dimensional villain.
I feel like the positive reception is a sign We Need to Talk About Kevin found its audience. However, I cannot recommend this movie to the general public. It’s not for a wide audience. This movie is only for an art-type crowd that can appreciate a slow, largely dull way of storytelling.
Based on the acting and the actual story, this is deserving of 5 stars. But the way We Need to Talk About Kevin was told is not deserving of 5 stars. It was an act of self-mutilation. I enjoyed certain aspects, but I cannot say I loved it as a whole. Half of the time, this completed missed the mark. Maybe it could be salvaged with a wildly different edit to give it an entirely new emotional feeling.
I’m sorry for burdening you with that novel reviewing a movie based on a novel.
I just needed to talk to someone about Kevin. Even if that someone was myself.