Anna Kendrick’s Woman of the Hour is a solid, true-crime debut for the talented actress. It should play well now that Netflix acquired it.
PLOT: The true story of an actress (Anna Kendrick) who, in the seventies, went on The Dating Game and was matched with Rodney Alcala (Daniel Zovatto), who was later revealed to be a serial killer that may have murdered up to 130 women.
REVIEW: The story behind Woman of the Hour is pretty wild, even as far as true crime goes. While the movie takes several significant liberties with her story, a young actress named Cheryl Bradshaw really did go on The Dating Game in 1978 and chose serial killer Rodney Alcala as her match. While the premise is thin, as there wasn’t much to Bradshaw’s interactions with Alcala beyond the show, Anna Kendrick, who makes her directorial debut from a Black List script by Ian MacAllister McDonald, has put together a chilling film.
Much of the film enters around Alcala’s murder spree, focusing on the young women he won over with his considerable charm (which is why he did well on The Dating Game) and eventually killed. It’s a similar technique to the one Ryan Murphy used in American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace in that it humanizes the victims and gives them a voice. It also never glamorizes Alcala or lingers on his crimes, tastefully cutting away before the killings happen (it’s not that kind of movie).
It’s a pretty assured debut for Kendrick, who also keeps herself merely part of the ensemble rather than the focus. Cheryl’s story is essential, but much of the film is centered around Zovatto’s Alcala, with his warm smile and good looks hiding the monster underneath. While certain aspects stretch the premise a little, such as Cheryl’s brother’s girlfriend in the Dating Game audience being someone whose friend was murdered by Alcala, it’s a well-paced and thought-out film.
Much of the plot revolves around a common truth found in many other true crime stories of the era, mainly that people’s concerns weren’t always taken seriously by the police. Kendrick does a good job depicting the casual sexism of the period, with Tony Hale wearing a hideous wig, making his seventies game show host a real sleaze. Kendrick portrays Cheryl as a woman desperate to please, as being an actress, she doesn’t want to be labeled difficult. However, she comes into her own during a fictionalized bit where she goes on a date with Alcala. The men aren’t all two-dimensional either, with the sleaziest contestant on the show trying to warn Cheryl about the bad vibes he’s picking up from Alcala at one point.
Despite working with a limited budget, Kendrick’s done an excellent job evoking the era with its hideous fashions and decor. Despite Alcala’s crimes making for pretty grim fare, Kendrick never makes the film too dour and isn’t afraid to have a little fun depicting the cheesiness of The Dating Game. She also does some interesting stuff visually, with the movie shot in scope by DP Zach Kuperstein and having a nicely atmospheric score by Dan Romer. One thing worth noting is that TIFF had several films by actors turned directors this year. As Michael Keaton’s terrific Knox Goes Away, the supporting cast is given a chance to shine here, with Zovato crafting a nuanced portrayal of Alcala that, while never shying away from the fact that he was a monster, makes us understand how he could seduce women.
Woman of the Hour was the first big sale of TIFF this year, with it snapped up by Netflix. Given their success with true crime, it was a wise purchase, especially if they can pair it with some of their non-fiction programming. I expect it to be a big hit for the streamer when it eventually comes out.