Fran Magazine: Issue #1
What kind of health insurance do you think the 355 get?
I have always been loyal to January-released films, the season for the dregs and the overstock of modern moviegoing. Some examples, you ask? Well, The Dig, of course, a movie about a dig. The Gentlemen, a movie co-starring Jeremy Strong so bad it nearly gave me a stroke (bad edition). Serenity, a movie co-starring Jeremy Strong so bad it nearly gave me a stroke (good edition). January is a month for interesting disasters and wayward swings. It’s also a month for garbage – incoherent nonsense that takes up an afternoon. And let’s just say that when you’re in possession of a Regal Unlimited Pass (FRAN MAGAZINE IS NOT SPONSORED BY REGAL THEATERS OR THE REGAL UNLIMITED PASS BUT IS OPEN TO THE POSSIBILITY OF COLLABORATION) you can go see a movie like The 355 without feeling all that guilty.
The 355 is essentially plotless – five women vie individually, and then collaboratively to procure a hard drive, this is the plot of 40% of movies nowadays – so forgive me if I don’t feel all that bad spoiling “what happens” in the movie, most of which has nothing to do with the hard drive they are trying to procure. The 3551 is named as such because of an anecdote regaled by Jessica Chastain (who plays a character named “Mace,” in case “Shiv” on Succession is not subtle enough for you) at the opening of The 355 trailer and at the end of the movie. “The 355” was the code for George Washington’s first female spy (???) and that’s what they (???) called her so no one ever knew her real name (that’s how spies work, generally2). Every time I saw the preview for The 355 this past fall, I’d think to myself, “there’s no way that’s true,” but it is apparently true enough to warrant a Wikipedia page, the existence of such seemed to be enough to keep this movie afloat.
“What if the CIA was girlboss” was a lot more fun as the premise of Alias, in part because The 355 is determined to be as bleak as possible and in part because even the worst wigs in Alias looked good on Jennifer Garner. What is frustrating about the girlbossification of the CIA (and by extension, MI6, BND, etc.) is that the women of the 355 are all still defined by their relationships with men. The things they do, what they want – it is all male-motivated and male-oriented. The reason I have no interest in the hard drive at hand is because the women have no interest in the hard drive at hand. It is just another day at the (spy) office where stealing and/or retrieving tiny pieces of tech is rote and routine. If not the saving of the world (passé), then what do these women care about? Chastain’s Mace is out for revenge for the death of her boyfriend (Sebastian Stan - Rutgers alum - who is, as it turns out, not dead and the central villain of the film - go Scarlet Knights!). Lupita Nyong’o’s – better than this, but you know that – Khadijah is always on the phone with her hunky British boyfriend to whom she lies about her work to until he is shot in the head in front of her. Penélope Cruz’s Graciela (cool name) is always weeping on the phone to her husband and two sons. Diane Kruger’s – perhaps the only 355 cast member who understands the type of bankrupt movie she is in therefore giving… if not a good performance, then one that fits the tenor of the movie – Marie is so fundamentally antisocial in like a late 19th century novel type of way that her closest male relationship is with her boss, her de facto father, who is also shot in the head in front of her. And Fan Bingbing’s3 Lin works alongside her father for the MSS.
This kind of irony feels unintentional, if not accidental, that the The 355’s resounding resolution is “we don’t need men, we have each other,” when they would not have each other were it not for their strained and tortured relationships with men. The whole film has a real “as a [daughter/girlfriend/mother] of [father/boyfriend/male children]” tone to it that makes the whole affair outright nasty and silly. It is a January release, after all, so we can’t put too much stock into it, but I am always somewhat curious where major motion filmmaking stands on, idk, “nevertheless she 355ed” amidst times of tumult and danger. On Letterboxd, I referred to the film as a “femcel opus” – “femcel” being, of course, a portmanteau of female and incel, a portmanteau itself of “involuntary celibate.”4 The 355 argues against any kind of personal relationships with men: boyfriends betray you or die. Fathers, too, are high risk. Husbands, even more high risk. Children? Don’t even think about it. But the 355 don’t have friends, hobbies, anything. Their lives are solitary; they are out of control. I guess it’s why the Diane Kruger performance works so well: any woman – person! – living like this would probably be a genuine psycho.
“Can women be CIA” is not really a question I am thinking about when I think about gender and work – what women are to their jobs, what jobs are to women, these are maybe a bit more interesting to me, I suppose, though barely, and what The 355 insincerely builds to is that as long as you have female coworkers, your job is good. I would argue that if your job is mostly traveling around the world to get a hard drive out of the hands of people who could [crash a plane/hack the whole internet/bomb a government building], your job is probably not good.
All said and done, I laughed so hard when Diane Kruger’s boss is shot. What an insane narrative beat. He’s not even that nice a boss! He’s mostly a guy who reminds her that her father was working for Russia. I would not want my boss to talk to me about my dad at any given time. And at one point, unrelatedly, while in Morocco, Jessica Chastain is basically dressed as Indiana Jones. That, too, is funny. But there’s not much to write home about: the action is sloppy, the movie is too long, the kills are cruel and violent, if not also that weird PG-13 bloodless violence where people are shot repeatedly but there is no gore (this, to me, is scarier than most R-rated types of violence). It’s the type of movie that should, at the very least, have a pretty slam dunk “getting the gang together” montage, but because the members of the 355 aren’t previously known to each other (minus Chastain and Nyong’o), they have to go through the tedious affair of everyone introducing themselves who they are and what they do and if they’re trustworthy. Anyway, if I wanted to watch a woman suffer I’d look the mirror – I’m KIDDING, I’m fine, I’m the editor in chief of Fran Magazine.
A movie I thought about a lot while watching The 355 was last year’s Those Who Wish Me Dead, the Taylor Sheridan-directed project starring Angelina Jolie in a fire tower protecting a child from some anonymous hitmen out to assassinate him because he’s, um, accessory to his father who they killed and they need… something… a document, maybe… or a deposition… – honestly, I don’t remember. Mostly I remember that a wildfire burns for the whole second hour of the movie and Angelina Jolie’s bangs never look anything less than perfect. All I do all day is sit in bed and somehow my bangs always look terrible. I recognize that Taylor Sheridan’s work (Hell or High Water, Sicario, Yellowstone) is not for everyone, and there’s some stuff I don’t like about it, but plenty I do enjoy, or at least, get something out of. Those Who Wish Me Dead and The 355 don’t have much in common in terms of plot, but my brain drew squiggly little lines between them nonetheless.
For one, the anonymous hitmen/suits/assassins in Those Who Wish Me Dead are played by Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult. At one point, they appear at the door of people they are going to kill dressed like this:
My friend Caroline sent me this photo of her TV when she was watching the movie, along with the question: “Why would you let two guys who look like this into your house?” A great question. I felt that way often watching The 355: who is letting these women do anything? That’s not to say they are incompetent (though the 355 are constantly fucking up, so…), but they are so untethered from society that they cannot pass as members of it. They are the least incognito girl gang of all time.
What I loved about these two guys in Those Who Wish Me Dead is though they are coworkers, they have open disdain for each other. They are not cracking jokes. They don’t have personal history with one another. They are completely dysfunctional in modern society. They’re not even really swiping at each other; they don’t get along and that’s that. (My mother, who read the novel Those Who Wish Me Dead, said that in the book these assassin characters are brothers; that is even funnier.) The assassins are scary and menacing up until they encounter Angelina Jolie and “good cop” Jon Bernthal (Sharp Stick premiering this weekend at Sundance!!!!!) and his pregnant wife Medina Senghore on a horse (so cool – a cooler image than The 355 could dare to conjure, frankly) and then the assassin shtick falls apart. Those Who Wish Me Dead falls victim to Sheridan’s weird conservative bent, of course, and you know, the whole thing is about a woman who lives for herself™ before forced to become temporarily responsible for the life of a child. But it’s nice to see characters who care about something, who operate out of desperation motivated by compassion, rather than desperation motivated by hard drive.
On Thursday of last week – the same day that Issue 0 of Fran Magazine dropped! We all remember where we were… – I heard a cat crying in the hallway of our building. Our upstairs neighbor got a kitten a few months ago and it snuck out when she left for work. I coaxed my boy roommate into letting us babysit, and so for about six wonderful hours of Thursday, we had a kitten that was not ours hanging around the house.
It was great to have this little buddy around – a perfectly-behaved cat – while we worked most of the afternoon. I got more work done that day than any other days last week, though one may assume the opposite, but perhaps knowing that the cat was in our apartment and safe and that it would go home to someone who loves it, was a great comfort as I toiled away on tasks both mindful and mindless.
Thanks to everyone who subscribed at any level over the last week or so. I am grateful!
Does anyone else want to move with me to Rum Isle? Maybe we can set up the Fran Magazine HQ there…
Love TikTok’s trainspotter Francis Bourgeois (no way is this his real last name…) in this North Face x Gucci ad, complete with a short film and interview. I refuse to buy into the farce of Julia Fox and Kanye West, but for whatever reason, I’m a total mark here. Let’s all resolve to never learn more about him.
I’ll be back next week with an issue for paid subscribers on Death Stranding.
The 355 (the movie) never refers to its characters, the five women, as the 355. For sake of clarity, when I am talking about The 355 the movie I will use a capital T The, and when I am talking about the 355 the women in the non-existent group within The 355 (movie), I will use a lower case t the. Hope this helps.
It would have been funny if the 355 (George Washington’s first female spy, not the movie or the five women in the movie) was in Hamilton. Why not! Just a laugh.
The actual most insane part of The 355 is that Fan Bingbing, the Chinese actress who went missing for several months last year during the period in which The 355 was shooting, is… ultimately not in The 355 at all? She appears in 95% of her shots alone, and in the group shots, she looks as though she has been composited onto the screen, a la The Good Wife finale.
Why am I defining “femcel” in Fran Magazine? Because my mother reads it, and I don’t want to think she already know what femcel means.