This review contains mild spoilers for Wingwomen.
Can a movie be “the gayest movie ever” and also “not gay enough”? This is the question asked by Mélanie Laurent’s recent Netflix romp Wingwomen.
You may know Mélanie Laurent as my — and maybe your — number one crush of 2010 after the scene-stealing, heart-throbbing one-two punch of Inglourious Basterds and Beginners. Nothing like a cinephile Nazi killer and an emotionally unavailable manic pixie dream girl to appeal to my adolescent self. But in the decade plus since achieving international stardom, Laurent has also established herself as a remarkable filmmaker. Her debut Respire remains one of my favorite movies about adolescence and toxic female friendship.
When I first heard Laurent’s latest, Wingwomen, starred her and my other long-time crush Adèle Exarchopoulos as expert thieves I was… intrigued to say the least. I waited with anticipation for it to play at a major festival only to be disappointed with each announcement. But then! Last week! It appeared! On Netflix dot com! And you can watch it right now!
Wingwomen is about career criminal named Carole (Laurent) who carries out job after job with her protégé/adopted adult daughter/life partner Alex (Exarchopoulos). After things get particularly dicey during a heist, Carole decides she’s done with the life. Her boss Marraine (a fabulous Isabelle Adjani) refuses to accept her resignation until she does one last job — classic! — which leads them to recruit a hot new driver named Sam (Manon Bresch, who quickly proves as worthy of a crush as her costars).
First, let’s address the obvious. Yes, our crime trio is named Alex, Sam, and Carol(e)! Number one, two, and a very notable 27 on our list of the most lesbianish first names. But are these Alex, Sam, and Carole lesbians? Well, not quite. Sam is! Sam is explicitly queer! When we first meet her, she’s mourning her wife and during one scene she makes out with a girl at a bar! I wouldn’t be writing about this movie with so much enthusiasm if there wasn’t at least one explicitly queer character. But what elevates Wingwomen beyond, say, Elizabeth Banks’ recent Charlie’s Angels reboot that also had one queer in a trio of three — other than better writing, directing, and acting — is the queerness here feels deep within the film as a whole.
Wingwomen is about chosen family. We learn that Carole adopted Alex when she was 14 and their dynamic is more mother/daughter or big sister/little sister than lovers. Their platonic intimacy is so well done, it only took a third of the movie for me to stop yelling at them to make out.
Part of this pivot was learning their history, another part was the introduction of Sam. Alex and Sam have an enemies-to-lovers(??) dynamic that could launch a thousand fanfics. Alex is initially salty that Sam is taking over as driver so she pushes her very hard during a training montage that, as a Capricorn, I found extremely hot. Alex also has a habit of falling for shitty men and Sam seems like the not shitty woman who should take their place.
Light spoilers to say that is not exactly the conclusion. But it’s also not not that?? I’d be even more obsessed with Wingwomen if Alex was made explicitly queer (and queer for Sam!) in the end but at least it’s left open. The vibes are intense! Especially since we know Sam is gay and Alex knows Sam is gay and the whole movie is about chosen family sans men.
I’ve been focusing a lot on the characters and the dynamics and exactly how gay the movie gets. But you’re probably wondering if the movie is, you know, good. My answer to that: kind of?? Its pacing is a bit off, the action sequences aren’t that great, and Alex and Sam making out isn’t the only plot beat that feels like it’s missing. But if you want a movie where hot women fight men and each other while celebrating chosen family then you’re going to love this. It has just enough French ennui and drama for some pathos and ends up being an excellent alternative to increasingly hollow Hollywood filmmaking.
Then again, one aspect of Hollywood filmmaking I hope Mélanie Laurent steals is the hunger for sequels. Imagine! Coming soon… Wingwomen 2: This Time Alex and Sam Make Out. I wouldn’t even wait for the buried Netflix drop. Opening day, I’d fly to France.
Wingwomen is now streaming on Netflix.