Fantasia 2019: A Good Woman is Hard to Find – The Deconstruction of the Single Mother

By Kenny Hedges

While discussing the popularity of Stranger Things recently, comedian Patton Oswalt made an interesting point. A scene in the first season involves Winona Ryder’s character begging her boss for an advance. He mentioned that, in North American pop culture, we don’t really have much representation of lower income people struggling to make ends meet. We’re obsessed with the famous-for-being famous crowd.

Not so in England, and certainly not so for single mothers. If A Good Woman is Hard to Find is representative of anything, it’s just how cruel society can be toward that particular subclass.

Sarah (Sarah Bolger) is a widowed mother of two, her face ashen as she stalks the aisles of the local grocery store and the advances of a manager. One day, a small time, jittery crook named Tito (Andrew Simpson) pulls a smash-and-grab near her home, forcing her to hide him and the stash of drugs he just ripped off from the English Mafia.

From the very moment Tito breaks in, it’s essentially rape. Even before any such advances are made, Sarah is constantly harassed by men. Tito returns for his stash, insisting he hide it there and even cuts her in. When she starts asking questions about her murdered husband, former accusations she never believed about his shady business dealings come clear as day.

There is very little of the film in which Sarah is not used or propositioned. She’s surrounded by toxic masculinity; even when she spends some of her cut on her children, she’s assumed to be selling her body. Police don’t take her seriously. Child services don’t trust her. She’s a single mother and she’s put through the ringer even before entering into a life of crime.

To give away more detail would ruin what is otherwise a taut, intelligent crime thriller, aided by a pulse pounding score by Mathew Pusti. Tito’s smash-and-grab job is an excellent set-piece. What plays out in the last act, while fairly routine, is handled with a deft eye and sharp writing. But it wouldn’t be anything without Bolger, constantly trembling, haggard and wracked by nerves.

It’s fitting that the film’s most uncomfortable moments are not chock-full of gruesome violence (though there’s a fair bit of that as well), but of the constant sexualization of a desperate, sad woman. In the post-#metoo world, it’s worth considering.


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