Director: Mélanie Laurent
Screenwriters: Cédric Anger, Chris Deslandes
Starring: Mélanie Laurent, Adéle Exarchapoulos, Isabelle Adjani, Manon Bresch
In the early 2000s, just before the big superhero boom, there was a trend of lighthearted, easily digestible action movies that revolved around an endearing central friendship. Charlie’s Angels, Shanghai Noon and Ocean’s Eleven were all a part of it. Now, in 2023, we find ourselves at the other end of the superhero boom. Just as box office returns are diminishing for Marvel and general audiences seem to be moving on from the churn of comic book adaptations, Wingwomen takes a look back at the trend we all left behind.
Wingwomen opens with a simple sequence of our two protagonists in what comes across as a training mission of sorts. For what, we’re never explicitly told. Carole (Mélanie Laurent) is the calmer, more level-headed and focused half of the duo, while Alex (Adéle Exarchapoulos) is the maverick who never misses a beat, even if her mind is preoccupied with the latest man in her life ghosting her. They’re pursued through a forest by an army of military drones – Carole drives a quad bike while Alex shoots from the back, being sure to vent about the instability of her love life throughout.
It’s campy and cheesy, but it’s also very watchable for one good reason…
From the moment Wingwomen starts, it is quite obvious that one aspect of it holds a lot of promise. In Carole and Alex, we have two leads who feel like real people, and who interact with one another in such a way that makes it hard not to succumb to their charms. They’re in some kind of an extraordinary situation, but they could just as easily be painting a wall together and it would be just as compelling to watch.
Their character archetypes go as far back as Laurel and Hardy – one is organised and the other is a mess, essentially. It’s the same dynamic that films like Rush Hour and Lethal Weapon have created such memorable relationships with. Wingwomen takes it in a slightly different direction, one that’s more concerned with subverting expectations and creating a reliance on one another along the way. Carole experiences problems that would feel more natural to Alex, and Alex is the best possible person to help her reason her way through those problems. Carole isn’t going through anything that Alex hasn’t had to learn how to cope with herself, often just to survive the hectic life she leads. The touching element of it all is that it gives Alex a selfless purpose in this relationship too, despite being the messy one. They need each other more than either of them knows, and it’s hard not to feel warmed by it when the characters are so authentic.
Unfortunately, as the narrative unfolds and we learn more about the world that these two find themselves in, it quickly starts to feel like we actually learn less. Quite early on, Carole and Alex decide they want nothing more than to lead normal lives. It’s one of the most exciting parts of the film, because by that point it’s already abundantly clear that these two characters are the heart and soul of Wingwomen. To see them transition into normal lives together would be fascinating.
Instead of diving further into these two characters though, we’re just introduced to more and more plot points that only exist for the sake of facilitating mediocre action sequences. There are super high-tech concepts that are introduced and then immediately abandoned – like a retina-scan secured bunker in the forest that blends into its surroundings because it’s a big mirror that they can see out of but nobody can see into. It’s visually appealing, but it comes and goes without leaving any impression or being given any explanation. That’s true for more or less everything outside of the core story which is just the richness of Carole and Alex’s friendship with one another.
Just as Wingwomen is a film of two halves from a narrative perspective, it is also one from a technical point of view. Some of its cinematography is beautiful, and there are a number of shots that are reminiscent of films like Parasite. In those moments, everything comes together to create a visual image that tells as much of the story as the dialogue filling the scene could hope to. Then there are moments when the screen feels as if it’s filled with disposable clutter instead. One example is during an ad-hoc musical sequence that, again, comes and goes without anything to justify its inclusion.
There is a very strong heart to Wingwomen that is constantly undermined by a tendency to create flamboyant set pieces with poor execution. Carole and Alex are wonderfully written characters with a beautiful dynamic as friends, but it’s hard to truly appreciate how brilliant that is when the bells and whistles attached to them are so loud and pointless. Even so, if this was shown as part of an early-2000s buddy action marathon it would be very difficult to spot the imposter. In fact, the only thing that might give it away is how well the buddy part is written while the rest is on par. If this trend is to make a comeback in the wake of the superhero boom, then hopefully they’ll at least have characters that are as compelling as this early entry into its revival era.
Written by Rob Jones