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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Charlotte O'Sullivan

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) review: Badass, feminist and funny

Cray-cray anti-heroine Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), aka “Joker’s girlfriend”, is already an icon. But now Cathy Yan’s ultra-violent, florescent-coloured DC comic book spin-off gives the best character from Suicide Squad a film of her own.

What with the success of Todd Phillips’s Joker, Birds of Prey seems part of a grand cosmic plan to make Jared Leto feel crap. Leto’s abusive Mr J, (often mentioned but never seen), has basically been put on gardening leave.

The gymnastically inclined Harley, doubling as the film’s gadfly narrator, gives us a delightfully lickety-split tour of her youth (Tantalising dad! Nuns!) as well as her current life as a singleton.

She’s older, yes, but not wiser. Over the course of the movie, Harley encourages an underage girl to drink margaritas, loot a shop, kill men and eat a sandwich containing eggs, bacon and cheese.

That sandwich appalled the two teenagers I was with (“least vegan sandwich EVER!”). But they still came out buzzing.

Badass: The new film sees Harley Quinn take centre stage

Me too. This film is brazenly irresponsible. It’s also genuinely feminist, beautiful to look at, brilliantly acted and very funny.

We’re in corrupt Gotham and Harley, trying to placate whimsical, wealthy, mob-connected face-flayer Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), is forced to pursue a pugnacious youngster, Cassie (Ella Jay Basco).

Harley and Cassie then get mixed up with various pissed-off women. The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a talented but self-conscious assassin. Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is a resourceful singerturned-chauffeur. Renee (Rosie Perez) is an alcoholic cop who wears a T-shirt that says, “I shaved my balls for this?”
It’s lovely to see Perez in a central role. Germaine Greer once wrote, “A grown woman should not have to masquerade as a girl in order to remain in the land of the living.” Let’s just say Renee isn’t a fan of masquerades.

It’s also unusual for a mainstream film to have so many distinct Asian characters. Yan is Chinese-American, scriptwriter Christine Hodson is English-Taiwanese. Compare Birds of Prey to Breakfast at Tiffany’s (go on, Yan and Hodson want you to) and you’ll see how
far filmmaking has come.

Martin Scorsese famously despairs of modern film franchises because they don’t address “the complexity of people”. Ironically, the flawed, sporadically intellectual, emotionally volatile Harley is far more complicated than the woman Robbie played in Scorsese’s The Wolf Of
Wall Street. And Harley, The Huntress, Black Canary and Renee are all harder to second guess than the adult females in The Irishman, eg Peggy Sheeran, not so much a person as a moral compass in a dress.

You don’t have to choose between Scorsese and superheroes. Let go of the guilt. Feel free to embrace these lesser spotted birds.

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