Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Movie with Abe: Radium Girls

Radium Girls
Directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler
Released October 23, 2020 (Theaters and Virtual Cinemas)

There are many chemicals and substances that have been used over time for positive purposes and later discovered to be dangerous both to those involved in the production process and consumers. New studies and evidence help to inform the public about substantial risks that might be undertaken in either the creation or purchase of something that could be toxic or cause illness. Unfortunately, there are many instances throughout history of companies or industries knowing full well the dangers of continuing to manufacture and market their products and declining to let those who should be informed know for the sake of making a profit.

Bessie (Joey King) works with her sister Jo (Abby Quinn) at the American Radium Factory painting watch dials in 1928 New Jersey. Bessie chooses not to lick the brush, something that all of the women have been told to do and which makes the process considerably quicker. When Jo becomes ill, they meet Wiley Stephens (Cara Seymour), an activist and lawyer who helps them to learn that the radium they interact with so frequently at work can have destructive and lasting effects. Unable to convince many colleagues to join in a lawsuit against American Radium for fear of losing their jobs, Bessie presses on to try to correct a major injustice she sees in the world that affects not only her but many others.

There have been many films made about those standing up to oppressive and unfair work conditions. While the structure of this story and its narrative may be familiar in certain respects, that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth telling, since this is in fact based on true events. This film succeeds well in portraying the horrifying frequency with which all the female employees were exposed directly to the paint after being told repeatedly that it was completely harmless. The energy of this uphill battle is palpable, and charting Bessie’s simultaneous immersion in countercultural interests helps to make her an engaging lead.

King is a talented actress who, before the age of twenty, has already proven herself very skilled with performances in “Wish I Was Here,” “Fargo,” and “The Act.” In this part, she displays strong passion, even if she feels like she could more believably exist in modern times than a century ago. Quinn, who has impressed in “Landline” and “After the Wedding,” delivers a particularly poignant turn, resigned to the state of her declining health and unsure how much and how long she can fight. This story is most effective when it represents the important benchmarks these “radium girls” wanted to achieve to address not only one very problematic practice but also to pave the way for others to combat similar situations in the future. With solid performances, vivid costumes, and purposeful editing, this film does a decent job of bringing its story to life.


No comments: