The holidays are here — there’s no way to avoid it. Everyone is especially grumpy this year and if you’d like proof of that, just look at this year’s Christmas movies. There’s like zero holiday-themed movies out this year, aside from Little Women and Black Christmas, which doesn’t entirely count because it’s a horror film. Maybe there’s not much to celebrate? Our government is corrupt, people are suffering all over the world, asylum seekers are being turned away, and the Democratic presidential race is bonkers. There is one person, however, who is coming to our rescue, and her name is Ana de Armas.
If you’re familiar with the actress — congratulations. I had seen her stunning face previously in Blade Runner 2049 but forgot all about it (she played a robot so she was not very recognizable) until I attended this year’s SCAD Savannah Film Festival in October. Last year, I was pleasantly thrilled to see Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma at the festival starring the extraordinary Yalitza Aparicio. This year, again feeling like utter crap, I wasn’t expecting much from the roster of films. But I had heard the new Rian Johnson film Knives Out was a must-see. The film — which is in theaters today — received a 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and so I went. Johnson is a phenomenal director (Looper, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi), but I was totally eye-rolling at yet another all-white cast — yawn! The film stars Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, and Toni Collette, among others. I was then surprised and excited to see LaKeith Stanfield (from Sorry to Bother You and Get Out).
The film begins with a trio of Latinas sitting around the table. De Armas’s character, Marta Cabrera appears on the screen, looking sullen due to the death of her employer — wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey. I Googled De Armas in the movie theater and learned that she’s Latina and from Cuba! Now I was genuinely intrigued to see where Knives Out would take me.
I quickly realized that the death of Thrombey leads to an investigation into who killed this famous patriarch. Everyone in his family is a suspect, including Marta, his nurse, and confidant. Now I cannot say too much without spilling some beans, but it does fall into the “whodunnit” genre. But leaving it there would be a travesty because Knives Out isn’t just a mystery about a white man’s death. It’s a hilarious comedy that will take you deep into the trenches of everything we are experiencing right now. The film is smart. And it’s funny. But more so, it’s a reflection of society’s ignorant and greedy ways, while also giving a loud voice to its Latina protagonist. It’s the holiday movie America needs.
I love when movies surprise me and Knives Out certainly did, and not just because of the message behind the movie but because of De Armas herself. In an interview with NPR, De Armas said she almost didn’t take the role because of the stereotypical role of Marta. How many times do we have to say it: Latinas can be more than the freaking maid!
“Well, at first, I just got a — you know, a single page with a very small description and just one scene so I couldn’t really see what it was about,” she said on NPR. “And the description — I didn’t like it because it was something like caretaker, Latina, pretty. And to me, those three words didn’t mean anything because it usually — we are represented as that, the help or the criminal or someone like that. And so I insisted a lot — there was a little back-and-forth with the producers and asking for the script.”
She added, “And finally, when they did send it, I realized that, well, that description didn’t fit at all, didn’t make justice to Marta. And she’s very complex, and she’s probably the smartest one in the whole film, and she’s the heart of the film. And I had so many colors and layers and things to play with that, you know, I feel very lucky.”
She’s a lucky girl indeed and will be starring in a slew of upcoming films. But for now I am just grateful that we have at least one movie that isn’t a cliché, that speaks volumes about our insane cultural state, and that isn’t another cheesy holiday movie. Knives Out is something more pure and real. It’s hilarious and it’s guaranteed to surprise you. It’s definitely worth checking out.