Full discretion: I consider Hitchcock my favorite director, living or dead. At the same time, however, I know frightfully little about him as a person. Imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch The Girl, purported to be based on real events, and saw him fashioned into a veritable monster of a man. Could that have been the bitter reality of the man whose films I hold so dear? In a word, yes.
Do I think it’s especially likely, though? In a word, no. In The Girl, the Alfred Hitchcock we see is one who would be at home in one of the director’s own movies. I won’t deny such people exist. Why else would there be so many movies made about characters like them? The difference is they have reasons for being what they are, whereas Hitchcock as represented in The Girl is severely lacking in that category.
Why is he drawn to Tippi, besides the fact that she’s blonde? What motivates the sudden escalation from subtle come-ons to out-and-out sexual assault (and more)? Is this a new or ongoing thing? Not a single one of these questions is answered in a satisfactory manner. We, the viewers, are just supposed to accept it as fact without being provided the necessary background.
Similarly, Tippi’s struggles naturally open themselves up to numerous lines of questioning. To begin with, who would willingly stay on for a second film with a man who’s abused her both physically and mentally? Occasionally she provides an explanation for her inability to extract herself from this torturous situation of hers, but none prove satisfactory.
She argues that she’s a professional and so should soldier through. Says she has no choice, but never goes into detail as to why. Again, it appears we’re not meant to question it, just accept it as fact. Clearly, she has no other option but to give in to her captor, for that’s what Hitchcock is, despite everyone around them having a decent idea of what things are like.
They know he lied to her when he said the bird attack would take one day to shoot and would use animatronic birds. They watched as live birds were sent after her, take after take, for five days. Saw that she was placed on mandatory sick leave for days to recuperate from her physical and emotional trauma. Yet nothing about this gave them pause about Hitchcock and Tippi’s working relationship?
Even worse, Hitchcock’s wife Alma seemed strangely ignorant of the goings on between her husband and this new actress of his. That or she was used to it from having been with him so long and did her best to ignore it. Either way, it’s hard to sympathize with her just as it is with Tippi.
Both act as willing spectators to their own destruction until the very end when Alma leaves the house and Tippi demands out of her contract and the viewer is left to wonder what exactly took so long. I can tell that, in telling her story, Tippi wanted people to feel bad for her and the others who had to put up with this man she’s completely demonized. The way things are laid out, though, I just don’t.
If things were this bad, if her experiences were really so melodramatic as to be akin to a Lifetime movie, she’s at least somewhat at fault for letting it go on as long as she did. Things were different back then, but she had enough witnesses, enough evidence of the toll he’d taken on her, that there had to have been a way out.
Clearly there was because she took it at the very end. Initially, Hitchcock tells her she can’t leave, while saying very little to back his claim up. Then, with little coercion on the part of Tippi, he concedes to her. Why? Is he the human equivalent of Swiper from Dora the Explorer where all that’s necessary to change his behavior is to repeat yourself a certain number of times? Because that’s more or less all Tippi does. She wants out of her contract and that’s that.
Conversely, Hitchcock, at his most sickening, demands she become his sexual slave as repayment for making her the actress she is, saying no one else will hire her, presumably because he will blackball her. How we get from there to her being allowed to walk off the set and out of his life, I don’t know. What should have felt like a battle won felt more like a forfeit on the part of the man who would’ve otherwise won.
It’s a continuation of the largely black-and-white nature of the film. Either Hitchcock’s a wryly humorous old man who happens to be a tiny bit skeevy, as he is in the first half of the film, or he’s a manipulative and abusive boar, as he is for the remaining duration. Either Tippi’s stuck in this wholly undesirable position with no way out (and not even looking for one), as she is for the vast majority of the film, or all she has to do is ask and she gets her way, as is the case in the closing moments.
Likewise, its characters, for that’s what I think of them as despite their resemblance to real people, are painted with the broadest of brush strokes. Hitchcock is a monster who’s charmed everyone else enough to find himself above suspicion. His wife Alma is the wife unable to see her husband for what he is until it’s partially spelled out for her as it is when she hears her him say he thinks of her as a sister and only married her because she asked. Tippi is the constant victim who seems to fancy herself something of a martyr.
In spite of all this, Toby Jones and Sienna Miller turn in performances spectacular enough to salvage The Girl. Jones especially, his Hitchcock imitation spot on. Though they’re limited to playing living hyperboles, they make it work enough that you forget to an extent just how sensationalized it all is. I’ll take it a step further and say that, for the first half or so, The Girl is a more than passable psychological thriller. After that, subtlety is abandoned wholesale and what was suitably understated becomes underlined, bolded, and italicized.
Still, it’s almost worth it to see Jones and Miller make a feast of the scenery as they are given free reign to do by the script that leaves them as little more than inhuman caricatures. But, I’ll say this. If you have a low tolerance for melodrama, I suggest you avoid The Girl and wait until Hitchcock is released later this year to get your fix. All signs point to it to it, with Anthony Hopkins playing the titular character, being the better or, at worst, less frustrating of the two.
The Girl is said to be based on real events, but it feels as much a work of fiction as any of Hitchcock's own films and never moves past the surface level to make its characters anything more than unexplained hyperboles.