Sundance 2023: Anne Hathaway’s “Eileen” Isn’t Nearly As Queer as It Wants To Be

This Eileen review contains mild spoilers.

Autostraddle is back at Sundance. Drew Burnett Gregory and Shelli Nicole are coming to you daily for the next week with LGBTQ+ movie reviews from one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Follow Drew and Shelli on Twitter for more! 


Folks throw “queer” on pretty much everything these days, especially films. Because of that, I’m always wary when I go into one that has “LGBTQ+” or “queer” attached to it because eight times out of ten I’m going to be let down. It’s rather sad that instead of being excited about movies that are being marketed to me, I have to go in wondering if I’m about to be tricked.

So when I heard about Eileen I was nervous but still amped. I tried not to compare it to Carol but at first glance, it’s hard not to. In Carol, a blonde and a brunette make some decisions during the Christmas season and get to dykin’. In Eileen… .a blonde and a brunette make some decisions during the Christmas season and supposedly get to dykin’. Sounds similar but the two films are very, VERY different.

Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie, Last Night in Soho) works in a boy’s prison in 1960s Massachusetts. She’s a gopher of sorts, she gets files, does visitor pat downs, that sort of thing. She’s also wildly horny, unsure of herself, and lives at home with her drunk, mean, and depressed father. So when Rebecca (Anne Hathaway, I’m not naming a movie you know who she is) walks into her life as the new prison psychologist and looks her way, she’s enamored with her. She’s confident, beautiful, kind, and pays attention to her — she’s giving her what she craves AND is everything she wants to be.

A still from "Eileen" where two women dance in a bar.

They later hang out ONCE at a bar, where Rebecca opens up over drinks and they share a vibe and a dance, but Eileen is so starved for affection that she mistakes it for something bigger than it is. She is having the typical “Do I wanna be her or fuck her” dyke conundrum, but because the film isn’t invested in being truly queer, it doesn’t properly explore it and instead, it turns into a story of another “crazy” girl.

This movie didn’t need this faux femme energy to be good, but since we are here — A THIGH TOUCH AND A SMILE DOES NOT MAKE A FILM QUEER. There are four moments that could be labeled as queer, all of them can quickly be explained as not, and all but one take place in the same scene.

This movie is giving All The Things She Said energy and I’m tired. Am I saying that I need to see dykes eat box on top of a bar in order to make a film actually queer? No. But I am saying that you should not be allowed to label a film dykey just ‘cos two pretty girls exchange a glance 22 minutes in. The film is also soaked in trauma, not just in Eileen’s story, but in everyone around her. Like, if it were actually gay, would I be happy to watch another movie where someone discovers their queerness from a traumatic angle? No. Molestation, suicide, loneliness, and depression all make an appearance in its 97-minute runtime.

Eileen is a good movie (with a fun twist that it is a bit too dependent on) but it’s not a queer one. It’s a movie about a young woman who is unhappy, unwell, and unfulfilled and then develops an obsession. The person she is obsessed with just so happens to be a beautiful woman, but it could have been anyone. I’m no longer giving films — and directors who make films like this — the benefit of the doubt because they are aware of what they’re doing. The more we continue to excuse it, the longer it will take for us to get films on the screen that are full, dope, and actually queer.


Before you go! It costs money to make indie queer media, and frankly, we need more members to survive 2023As thanks for LITERALLY keeping us alive, A+ members get access to bonus content, extra Saturday puzzles, and more! Will you join? Cancel anytime.

Join A+!
Related:

Shelli Nicole

Shelli Nicole is a Detroit-raised, Chicago-based writer. Her work has appeared in Bustle, HelloGiggles & Marie Claire. She is terrified of mermaids and teenagers equally.

Shelli has written 241 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. Wow. Thank you for your review and saving us from disappointment. I love well-made films about almost any subject but this one sounds like a trigger fest with no positive relationship to soothe us. An obsession is not a relationship and your are so right that one scene with some wistfulness does not a queer movie make. We are all tired and we all deserve more. Had hoped we could clear some space for more female and queer filmmakers of color after #metoo but I guess it didn’t work as well as I hoped. Mumbling curse words as I walk off into the distance…

  2. Oof Amen. I didn’t read the book but just watched the movie and it made me mad as hell. I’m fuming. I’m so sick of this queer-baiting-turns-into-trauma bs. It felt very exploitative and then ended incredibly abruptly without any further conversation, even within the confines of the genre. To add insult to injury, the actors gave some really fantastic performances. It’s a damn shame the movie didn’t live up to the onscreen talent it brought together. I’m just really sad this is the movie this team felt they needed to make. I don’t know how many queer people came to the table to make this in key roles but I’m going to guess not very many … I hope others have a better experience with this movie and I look forward to hearing other opinions. thank you for reviewing ! I hope the rest of the fest has better story representation… 😔

  3. Definitely not defending queer baiting and maybe I am misremembering the book as I read it several years ago, but I don’t recall it being very expansive on the queer content either. Trauma plays super heavily in the book, often to the point of discomfort, so I wonder if those producing film thought that the fleeting queer moment could help draw people into what is otherwise quite a dark narrative. Not that it is right of course, tacking “queer” or “LGBT” on something just tangentially is not cool.

  4. I really, really appreciate this review!! I read the book years ago and loved it for its wry narrative, depression girl vibes, etc but I never found it to be queer per se so I was really thrown by the CAROL comp for the movie. It sounds like they danced around with queerbaiting to increase possible viewership and that’s so disappointing. I’ll probably still watch but ugh, I wish they just didn’t tease queerness if they weren’t going to deliver with any sort of grace. Thank you again for these reviews!!

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!