Mad Women is filled with storytellers: nearly every conversation involves the detailed recollection of a past event. This gives most performers in writer/director Jeff Lipsky’s sixth film the opportunity to chew on juicy monologues, but it further distances these remote, sanctimonious characters. Intercut with their confessional discussions is an exhaustive mayoral campaign announcement speech from Harper Smith (Christina Starbuck), delivered with messianic zeal to rapturous applause.
The affluent (fictional) New York City suburb of Iris Glen may seem idyllic, but Harper is proposing a self-sustaining liberal utopia with free healthcare and jail time for public spitting. The goal of this ambitious agenda is secession from the United States of America. But instead of being a black comedy about white privilege, the loopy Mad Women focuses on Harper’s family life rather than her political crusade. Besotted daughter Nevada (Kelsey Lynn Stokes) is her most devoted acolyte, especially after stalwart husband and father Richard (Reed Birney) falls from grace.
Things just happen to the Smith family, with illness and incarceration treated like trials to be endured. Nevada laments that her life wouldn’t make a good movie because she’s not relatable, but the biggest problem in Lipsky’s scattershot narrative is situational ethics. When Nevada contemplates cutting her hair, boyfriend Otto (Eli Percy) flies into a rage, while barely reacting to her revelation of a taboo sexual relationship. Harper is a self-righteous savior, and everyone in Mad Women is eager to follow her delusional lead, even when that means twisting their morality to serve her needs.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on July 10, 2015 by Plainview Pictures
First published in The Village Voice, 2015.