Marianna Palka on Becoming a Rabid Dog in Her Biting Feminist Film 'Bitch'
The writer, director, and star of this karmic dark comedy says "Bitch" is a healing movie about rehabilitating bad men.
Photos courtesy of Dark Sky Films
Ever been called a bitch before? Director/writer/star Marianna Palka takes the label to a harsh, comical extreme in her latest film Bitch (in theaters tomorrow, November 10). Palka plays Jill, a frustrated housewife, who, under the pressure of taking care of her children while her incompetent, uncaring husband Bill (Jason Ritter) sleeps with another woman, snaps and takes on the persona of a rabid dog. Yes, as in she gets on all fours, barks and howls, and smears her own feces all over the walls. The transformation is an anomaly to the whole family, including Jill’s children, her sister Beth (Jaime King), and her husband Bill, who eventually starts transforming himself—for the better—after this karmic blow-up in his household.
It takes a lot of guts to play this role, but Palka had written the part with herself in mind as a loose follow-up to 2008’s Good Dick, which she also wrote, directed, and starred in alongside Jason Ritter. There’s currently an appetite for women who bite back at shitty men, and Bitch is a satisfying serving of vengeance. But it’s also meant to heal, rather than simply criticize. Palka truly believes that cinema can change the world, and she’s already seen positive feedback from both men and women. Broadly spoke with the triple-threat filmmaker about how Bitch can be a rehabilitative medium for men like the film’s guilty patriarch, Bill.
Watch Broadly's exclusive clip from Bitch, which shows Jill warning her husband that she might "do something" the morning before she turns into a rabid dog.
BROADLY: This movie is insane. I saw it with an audience who couldn’t believe what they were watching.
MARIANNA PALKA: It’s like a mass healing, the film is very potent right now. It was my intention to get a really good experience out of it, so the audience is healed and genuinely better people when they leave.
Did you always have youself in mind for the part of Jill?
I did, because I was doing a lot of craniosacral therapy. I wanted to add cranial rhythm in a performance so I thought, "How would I do that? I’d have to be a dog. How would I be a dog?" So it started from there, and then I had this idea that I’d heard from this Scottish doctor, he had a woman who became a dog in a similar way. She had empty nest syndrome because her kids had left and she had no identity. So, then he talked to her and she came out of it. When I heard that I thought, "Shit, did she know what she was doing? Was she conscious? Or was she just doing it and she wasn’t there inside? Was she present or not?" and that was just stuff I needed to make a film about all in one. I wouldn’t have imagined another actress taking it.
Do you have to get into a certain headspace to get into that dog character?
Funny enough, it’s very easy. I don’t know why. And the kid actors were very helpful because they’re silly and we really had a blast. Everybody was so comfortable and there was so much trust, we were able to do what we wanted. I genuinely think that there’s something really valuable in a curiosity and a playfulness and knowing there’s a cohesion to the story. This is alchemy, It’s not a dark story that gets darker but it’s also not just light fluff. This has a moral message within it. Each of my movies have a "medicine" within them, they’re built that way, to cure and heal society. So the more people watch them and talk about them, the more we get to be a better society. Because everybody knew that was what I was going through, they were able to be super free. People on set were like, "Fuck, this is so fun."
There is such an appetite right now for women biting back in the film industry and it’s so cathartic in that way.
It’s really good and I think being solution-based is also really key. Saying: No, this is what a good marriage is, you kind of have to fight for it. And if you’re going to cheat on your wife, you have to have repercussions. People will still love you, but it’s hard. It’s not like you can just be a dick. So I think what’s cool about Bitch is that there’s enough nice guys out there to make this film possible. The people I know in my life who are the biggest feminists are actually men. So it’s been really helpful for me to rely on them. Like, Elijah Wood or Jason Ritter, who’s genuinely very supportive. Like he’s basically a woman, you know what I mean? So that’s why it’s a good dynamic and why I could make the film. Because I was like, "Oh, what is it like if we’re making a movie about someone who is a real addict to capitalism?" You know, someone who is really kind of the average American male who voted for Trump. It’s a message to them, it’s a movie about them. "You’re gonna be okay. We see you. You aren’t alone.You have a family, you have a sister, a sister-in-law, you have kids. You can come around."
Have you heard any responses from men?
That’s been the biggest thing for me, the men. Because the film is about men and women—mostly about women—but it’s about the connections between women and men that cannot be broken. In what way can we really have a holistic but vicious approach to men who are fucking up right now? Because it’s really our responsibility, between women and men, to do something about these bad men. We want to make more of the bad men good men. That’s what Bitch does, it makes Bill into a good man, makes him a great dad, a great husband. And what that really looks like is the catharsis of the journey, it’s why everybody screams when they watch the movie.
Men, grown men who are Republican or who have definitely conservative values, have been coming up to me. They love the fucking movie because it's pro-family, but they also relate to being the bitch. They’ve watched it being like, "Bill is the one who’s the bitch" because he’s been screwed over by his work. He’s been pushed out and I think it’s amazing that there’s a movie about a female who becomes a dog and men are like, "It’s about the guy." Still, of course, it’s about everyone.
So it’s like, in which ways can we stop that isolation from happening, where people think they’re alone? Movies make the world better, they heal us, they start conversations. I think it’s really about the rehabilitation of people who have done stuff like sexual harassment, sexual abuse. First of all, acknowledge that there’s a problem, which is a big deal. And then once that’s acknowledged, there must be a process of healing, which can take longer than the abuse itself. So you have to be willing to go through that process. I think Bill is. That’s why it’s a beautiful film because you see the redemption of this guy who takes so long to do the laundry. In the script he does the laundry on page 75, and the script is like 95 pages long! That’s on purpose. Because I know guys like that, you know guys like that. They’re like, "I don’t do the laundry" and it’s like "dude, you gotta fuckin’ remedy that!" it’s not medieval times and we aren’t your slaves. Men have come up to me and said, "Now I call my kids’ school, I know their teachers’ names, after your movie."
"In what way can we really have a holistic but vicious approach to men who are fucking up right now?"
They were ashamed. They were like, "Fuck, I never drop them off at school, I don’t even know where they go, like where is that school?" I’ve had wives come up to me being like, "This has saved my marriage, we’re getting it on again, we’re on another level of understanding each other." I think what it does for women is have us be able to say, "Yeah if you treat us like a dog, we’re gonna behave like a dog." Whatever you do to the person on a karmic level is gonna come back at you and literally bite you. So if you’ve spent decades being an asshole, that’s decades of shit coming back at you.
Sometimes literally, like in your movie.
The worst thing that can possibly happen! There’s poop on the wall. And that’s adult poop, that’s not child’s poop. Josh Waller, our producer, took a thousand pictures of me eating dinner or having fun with the kids while I had fake poop all over me. The fake poop was actually brownie batter made by our make-up artist Vyvy Tran, so it tasted delicious and looked and smelled good so it was kind of appealing, it wasn’t gross.
I think it takes a lot to be optimistic. You can very easily be like "Everything is shit, why even bother?"
There are a lot of films that say that and people that say, "I don’t take responsibility for what is in my movie because why does it matter?" And its like, then why get out of bed in the morning? Actors sometimes even tell me, "No director has ever been kind to me." I’m like, "Are you fuckin’ serious?" There’s no reason for the job to be a fear-based, bullying situation. That is the old way, nobody gets anything done that way. If you wanna make a good movie, if you wanna make a good country, you have to rule with a sense of grace and love and no ego. It’s really not about you, it’s about the story and getting the best out of everybody and making sure everyone has a really good time and nobody gets objectified on any level. So, the production assistants or the interns are as valuable as an actress in her trailer. I really value the idea that we’re all making it together. All my films have a sense of, "YES!"
It should be that way!
It should, and every workplace can be that way. I do think there’s something to be said about, like, what comedian Michelle Wolf said about how to deal with Harvey Weinstein. Replace him with a woman. I said that at dinner and the next day I saw she had said that in one of her stand-ups. Hire the fuck out of women and we’ll take over.