Ti West returned to the big screen earlier this year with X, a film that readily displayed a multitude of things. The talents of Mia Goth were one, the ability of the director another, but the one everyone left talking about was the size of Kid Cudi’s member (because that just HAS to be a prosthetic, and if it isn’t my god man…[insert applause]).
This is not that movie.
Pearl is the second entry in West’s horny trilogy, centered in at least some way around porn and more focusing on that desire for the big-time spotlight. Mia Goth returns as Pearl, a role she took on in the first film under a ton of makeup, and she sports a different character this time around. Maxine was one thing, but Pearl was someone so achingly empty that her husband attempted to kidnap adult film stars to satisfy her lustful needs. This may seem easy on the surface, but underneath ran a current of longing and desire that sits inside of every human being whether they admit it or not.
Now it’s 1918 and the Great War is on in full swing. Pearl has been left in Texas by her husband, Howard (Alistair Sewell), with her mother, Ruth (Tandi Wright). The two care for her infirmed father (Matthew Sunderland) by shoveling as much morphine as can be handled into his gullet. Pearl is unhappy with her life on the farm, longing for the love of her husband (or anyone), and desperate to escape the tyrannical clutches of her mother. The Spanish Flu rages and America is all at once nostalgic and familiar. When a young projectionist (David Corenswet) introduces Pearl to the Bohemian lifestyle she’s always dreamed of it sets off a spree of sex, violence, and desperation for the Big Time.
Look, this isn’t the film that X was. The slasher throwback was a depraved, delirious, lewd version of a horror picture presented for modern audiences. Pearl is more concerned with the technicolor dream presented to the Silent Generation, one that left them lacking and broken when their children’s economics broke down and failed. This is the America of yesteryear that only exists in the memory of the delirious, with Cinemascope dreams and dancing fancies laid bare before the harsh reality that is life. It’s a much more cruel film than its predecessor, but only insomuch that it shines a light on the world its leading lady grew up in.
There’s still a lot to be said of Pearl. The film is an homage to an homage, hearkening back to films that reference The Wizard of Oz while also invoking Hitchcock’s Psycho (one body is disposed of by pushing the car into a lake in the greatest of efforts to be subtle). The mishmash doesn’t always work, but when the stars align it pays off in dividends even if the rest of the film is scratching and IOU on a cocktail napkin meant for next year.
That film is acknowledged in the end credits, but for now, we’re left with a blissfully mediocre entry that gleams in its high moments (Mia Goth’s monologue in the last ten minutes could serve as the crowning achievement in many other performer’s careers) and hisses in shadow during its low moments. This is such an aggressively bland film for sixty percent of its runtime that I cannot recommend it for anyone that isn’t planning on completing Ti West’s trilogy next year. This truly feels like DLC for a video game that should have been released in completion.
Pearl is currently playing in theaters…if you insist.