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Wildcat depicts the formative years of Southern Gothic novelist Mary Flannery O’Connor, who used her vivid writings to bring out her creativity. She was a deeply devoted person who had difficulties reconciling with her art aspirations and Catholic faith while she suffered from nerve-wasting lupus. Ethan Hawke both directed and co-wrote it; Maya Hawke, his daughter, is featured in it alongside an esteemed conglomerate which paints an overbearing image that confuses creative expressions for deep content. A ping-pong structure whereby the ensemble plays multiple characters brings the pace down to a trickle on screen. Many efforts are put forth but the encounter is long drawn-out and unfortunately not memorable.

Hawke opens Wildcat with a salacious black and white movie trailer of an O’Connor short story. This is the first taste of O’Connor (Maya Hawke) putting herself and her mother, Regina (Laura Linney), as fictional leads in distressing sexual, racial, and religious narratives; the overarching themes of her work. These fantasy vignettes always announce themselves via O’Connor’s typewriter tapping, as she narrates what happens while referencing certain actual events people or things that inspired them.

The reality sets in when a card places O’Connor in 1950 New York City. She bristles at criticism from would-be publisher Alessandro Nivola. Her painstakingly filling manuscript waters down viewer engagement levels too much. He feels she did it on purpose using grotesque elements to torment him. Although she prays for guidance, O’Connor cannot afford to remain in New York and continue writing there because of material reasons. At the railway station where they take different paths, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Cal Lowell (Philip Ettinger), comes to wave goodbye to her .She adores him but doesn’t feel any romantic inclination towards him.

Such an agonizing journey back home Milledgeville Georgia reveals the illness that keeps haunting her. O’Connor’s face breaks out in red bumps. She shivers with cold and daydreams of another story: a mentally disabled farm girl (Hawke) who attracts the attention of a one-armed hobo (Steve Zahn), to the delight of her mother (Linney). As the train pulls into the station, O’Connor’s worst fear waits on the platform. Regina becomes scared at seeing how frail her daughter has become. Taken aback by an alarmed Regina, O’Connor sighs in exasperation as she is immediately whisked away to see a doctor.

O’Connor despised numerous aspects of her southern upbringing. She makes fun of her mother in fiction but relies entirely on Regina’s care. Linney, who is always amazing and plays six characters including Regina, acts as a rock for her teenage daughter. She doesn’t know why O’Connor does not write about stories similar to Gone with Wind but never discourages from following that which makes her baby happy. The complicated relationship between Flannery and her mom is what carries this movie forward rightfully so. Ethan Hawke’s script highlights this but doesn’t spend nearly enough time with them in actual settings when they are themselves.

The Wildcat idea is that O’Connor went away from the physical and mental anguish through her mind. Every thought has a mini adaptation that develops into the eventual published work that would make her famous. The challenge is the fire hose approach to its execution. These asides take precedence over the narrative to a fault. It becomes an everbackandforththatwearsoneout. Ethan Hawke needed to hold his ground with pertinent exposition.Hence, there is an excess of fantasy scenes and they are meaningless in themselves; if they appeal to literature enthusiasts, that’s another story.

This perception also affects the production values of the movie. The film looks pretty decent though it still lacks restraint nonetheless.The lighting is erratic, some shots freeze for no apparent reason in long takes, and a billowing smoke FX scene that’s honestly puzzling. This visual overload is meant to contrast the crippling depression of O’Connor’s daily life.This seems like Ethan Hawke wants his whole career as a filmmaker flashed across this particular screen.

Maya Hawke does great job as O’Connor and her alter egos.Wildcat will undoubtedly get nepotism slapped on it.Still, calling it an indictment or even an insult would be incorrect.Hawke has proven herself capable of playing different roles quite well; she can be seen in Asteroid City where she displayed arthouse eccentricity or Stranger Things where everything was much more popular.She clicks with Linney.Empathy sets in as lupus attacks O’Connor’s body and soul.Yes, another actress could have played the part.However, there’s nothing wrong with her performance.

Flannery O’Connor was a remarkable but conflicted woman who achieved literary greatness despite having only about two more years to live after being diagnosed with lupus at age 36. There are many talented people involved in Wildcat both in front of and behind camera.It’s obvious that those who worked on this film considered it to be a passion project about her life and writing. What is needed is a more measured approach that would involve the fantasy elements without their takeover of the running time.This would have relieved the dragging delivery and added weight to its dramatic impact.

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