TIFF 2023 | Wildcat (Ethan Hawke, US) — Special Presentations

By Iman Bundu

Beginning with a faux trailer for a Flannery O’Connor story, Wildcat’s play acting feel never subsides. Despite its ambitious structure, Ethan Hawke’s film is marred by an amateurish quality, which conflicts with its self serious tone. Bursts of wry humour come as a relief, hinting at a better film, but such charms are mostly incidental in a movie that largely relies on exhausted artist-story tropes. As the film begins, O’Connor (Maya Hawke) is coming off an unsuccessful meeting with a publisher; after which she’s forced to return home to her native Georgia, where she remains through illness and a stalling career. Wildcat switches between illustrating O’Connor’s biography and acting out her stories; her works are activated in the film whenever O’Connor views real figures who inspire her, an approach which fails to meaningfully elucidate the specifics of her process (or the quality of her prose). 

Struggling to adequately reconcile with O’Connor’s decidedly complicated relationship to race, Wildcat transposes a contemporary liberal view onto her beliefs, which could leave viewers unfamiliar with her work with a cozy idea of O’Connor as little more than a misguided progressive. Even as the strange, unplaceable, violence of its subject’s writing manages to strain through, Wildcat is unlikely to convert—or inform—the uninitiated.