When I was given this movie to review, just based on the title alone I thought for sure it was going to be some half-hearted attempt at making a modern-day “sexploitation” film in the vein of 70s era smut king, Russ Meyer.
What it turned out to be was far from a single horny dude marooned on Bikini Island.” As a matter of fact, Bikini Moon, by director Milcho Manchevski, is an in-depth look at the tragic existence of a Black, female Iraq War veteran named Bikini (Condola Rashad) who suffers from mental instability, and the husband and wife filmmaking team that try to help her integrate back into society.
In reality, I wish the plot was as simple as that, but unfortunately, this film moves in directions that make you scratch your head more than sympathize for the character.
The movie starts with Bikini trying to find housing at a government-run social center, but after being denied we actually see the filmmakers, Trevor (Will Janowitz) and Kate (Sarah Goldberg) step in and try to help her find a place to live. But with no money, and very little (assumed) government assistance, her options are pretty dismal.
“…an in-depth look at the tragic existence of a Black, female Iraq War veteran who suffers from mental instability…”
But, due to her erratic behavior from not taking her meds, she ends up losing the one place she was finally able to get, and having nowhere to go, is invited to move in with Trevor and Kate (against Trevors wishes). So after a short run of Bikini doing a little better, the courts allow her to have temporary custody of her 5-year-old daughter with Trevor and Kate’s supervision. So everything appears to be falling in place for her. That is until Kate comes home from shopping with Bikini’s daughter and the rest of the film crew and finds Trevor and Bikini having sex.
So naturally Bikini, leaves the house and disappears for months, the state takes her daughter, and Trevor and Kate are obviously no more.
This is not where the story ends though. The rest of the film crew, in fear of not getting paid for all of their hard work, decide they want to finish the documentary they started on Bikini. So they track her down somehow begging for change on the highway and convince her to let them finish the film.
Then things get weird.
The film crew escorts Bikini to Kate’s house (the woman we just betrayed by sleeping with her husband), and Bikini begs her to help her get her daughter back. So the way she decides to help her is by them… getting married.
Yep. So in what is supposed to be a “farce marriage” to fool the courts, Bikini and Kate end up really hooking up together. And when it’s finally time to get her daughter back, the judge rules against it anyway, causing Bikini to go into a fit of rage and attack the judge.
Now here’s where the movie not only goes off the rails, it collides into another train!
“…played her part in ways that infuriate you and tug at your heart at the same time.”
So after a very brief time in lockup, somehow Bikini gets out and is living back on the street. They never allude to whether she tries to find her “wife” Kate again or not. The film crew finds her (yet again). She takes them back to some warehouse she is currently sleeping. The place is dirty, cold, and creepy. And after some small talk between her and the crew, we discover that she is sharing the warehouse with… and I shit you not… a mutant, human-sized praying mantis. But it doesn’t stop there, right after we meet the giant praying mantis, she takes the camera crew to some weird, secret mardi gras type parade where they realize that she is actually magical.
Here’s my problem.
After watching and reviewing many films in my time, I’m all too familiar with twist endings. And when done right, it’s something special. But, what could have been an otherwise thought-provoking movie, is completely thrown on the firewood because the director obviously decided to take a few shrooms when finishing the script.
There is literally a scene where Bikini gives her landlord oral sex to get an apartment, in front of the entire camera crew, but nevermind that kids, it was all one big “ghetto fairytale?”
To give credit where it’s due, Condola Rashad and Sarah Goldberg are great with regards to the acting talent in the film. Especially Rashad. She played her part in ways that infuriate you and tug at your heart at the same time. And the movie has a certain rawness to it that makes it an uncomfortable watch at times. But I always think that’s a good thing. Movies should make you feel a variety of feelings.
But overall, I just think Bikini Moon makes a crucially weird creative choice that hurts it pretty severely. I’ll be completely honest, I really don’t understand why that ending needed to even happen. If anything I will say, if you do watch it, you’ll probably enjoy ⅔ of a decent movie.
Bikini Moon (2018) Directed by Milcho Manchevski. Written by Milcho Manchevski and W.P. Rosenthall. Starring Condola Rashad, Sarah Goldberg, Will Janowitz, and Sathya Sridharan
6 OUT OF 10