If I told you that while watching a film about a woman who thinks she's a dog might make you reflect on your own life, you'd probably think I worked for the marketing department at a major movie studio releasing some new, zany kids movie, in which a big name actress plays a mom who finds out what it's like to be the family pet. However, Marianna Palka's Bitch, inspired by a real life case study of a woman who behaved as if she was a wild dog, couldn't be further from that. And according to Jaime King, one of the stars of the film, this outlandish story is actually steeped in emotions that are completely universal.
"I really understood [the film] because probably my greatest fear that I still have to this very day, that sometimes it will just pop up in my brain and I’ll think 'Oh my god, what if I never really manifest my dream," she says, sitting on a cozy couch in one of the Sundance Festival's many press lounges on a snowy Sunday.
While the main character of Bitch, Jill (Palka), isn't reaching for anything quite like King's career as an actress, she does seem to feel fear of never achieving happiness. The kind of pain that accompanies that fear of not getting what you want in life is what makes the film so universal, according to King.
"There’s so much that you want to connect to and when you’re not connecting on that level it’s really painful," adds King. "... I have friends that never get what I think that they deserve as far as roles or ways to show their gifts, that have that pain. And I think accountants get that pain and housewives get that pain and we all experience the same pain ... it’s different because it looks different on the outside, but I think it really feels similar on the inside."
Jill clearly feels this pain in her daily life as a stay-at-home mom whose husband, Bill (Jason Ritter), dictates her every move and doesn't seem to truly see her. She's severely disconnected from Bill, and yet, because he's so demanding, completely under his thumb. There is a clear fear in Jill that she'll never be happy — especially considering that her husband asserts in the first few minutes of the film that she doesn't have time to test out her dream of learning to paint because, who would take care of their children? Moments like this stoke Jill's fear, which seems to lead directly to her psychotic break, in which she begins behaving like a wild canine. And while the metaphor seems rather obvious — Jill is treated like nothing more than her husband's pet, kept in his house all day with his kids, at the whim of his desires and his rules, so begins to act like one — Palka's unique execution, along with her startling performance as Jill, brings the point home.
Understanding the fears that drive Jill is essential for King, who plays Jill's sister who spends the film trying to care for and understand her sister while helping Jill's husband Bill fumble through his life without his wife — essentially fulfilling the role that drove Jill to take on her new persona.
"I think, ironically, [the film] just coincided with who I am as a human being and as a woman right now in my life where there are a lot of things that I feel helpless about," she says. "And then the other side comes up really fast and spikes up so much stronger than the helplessness that wants to act and do and it’s really strong and it’s really fierce and it’s relentless."
For Jill, that desire to act, of course, manifests itself in a rather unique way. While I doubt many people are about to have the same reaction to their own fears, audiences might just relate to Jill's feeling of helplessness. And when you look at the way so many people feel at the start of 2017 and thus the start of Donald Trump's presidency, that feeling of being trapped and hopeless and yet wanting to do something, anything to change the outcome of our futures is just about the most universal feeling around.