Actress and first-time director Lina Esco tackles women’s rights in her new, appropriately titled film Free the Nipple. At only 79 minutes long, the well-intentioned flick is drawn-out, predictable, and uninspiring.
Esco’s political statement begins when her character “With,” interviews feminist activist “Liv” (Lola Kirke, sister of Girls star Jemima Kirke) whose life mission is to publicly take her shirt off without getting arrested. Oh, the injustice of it all. The nipple-showing, girl-power group takes to the streets of New York (where it is legal for a woman to be shirtless in public) donned in capes, pants, and not much else. Although the first instinct of the NYPD is to arrest them for inappropriate behavior, there isn’t much they can do on paper – and the girls are free to go.
Throughout the course of the film, clips of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl nipple exposure are intertwined with news footage of the Colorado theater shooting where 12 people were killed while watching The Dark Knight Rises. Esco’s point is reiterated over and over – something is wrong with America’s reaction to national tragedies and pop culture events considered “newsworthy.” Using clips of Jackson’s nipslip is understandable but using news footage of the Colorado shooting seems cheap and classless. If it was a political film about gun violence or mental illness it would be a different issue, but using tragic footage to build a political case on public nudity is not necessary and somewhat offensive.
When With’s suit-and-tie boss throws away her controversial story, her army of girlfriends hire filmmakers to make a viral video and make their cause known. (Side note: If this film is supposed to take place only a couple of years ago, why would With turn her story in on paper? Would her article really be sold to the highest bidder? What year is this?) Nonetheless, all of the young actresses and activists (plus Janeane Garofalo in a small role) give strong performances and are believably behind the cause.
The film feels like an After School Special about the unfairness of censorship and shaming of women and their sexuality. The entire third act is one close-up shot after the other of breasts bouncing up and down Times Square – not shocking, since its what the film was building up to. But who will watch this besides feminist activists? Will this reach a mainstream audience and make people think twice about shirtless women in public? Not likely. Again, it’s well intentioned and Esco’s passion about the issue shines through, but it leaves you shrugging your shoulders and asking, “Don’t these girls having anything better to do?”
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (12/17/14)
Top Photo: Girls of NYC go topless for equality
Bottom Photo: Lola Kirke as “Liv” freely posing for Lina Esco as “With”
Q: Does Free the Nipple pass the Bechdel Test?
If this doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, I don’t know what does – With and Liv’s friendship is at the center of the film. Although they have friendships with other men, girls are the central focal point of Free the Nipple.