Imitation of Life

Imitation of Life ★★★★

Crazy film. So weirdly precise in its narrative beats and parallels and foils and weird weird tone. It takes like screwball elements (goofy stock characters, a novel profession for both of the romantic leads) but plays it all so straight, like none of the comedy lands, making the film feel more like Fassbinder than the middleman of Sirk. Its juxtapositions in tone are so jarring as to say so much with an absence of narrative information than its presence (Paola’s heartbreaking first outburst is the first of these narrative hinges, but the most significant is maybe the film’s middle section of Peola’s woes cut short by an obligatory and shallow romance that heightens the significance of Peola’s character and frustrates the audience in her absence), and its understanding of dualism and symmetry is as classically satisfying as it is socially progressive. Just a weird, weird movie, incapable of being easily digested or categorized or described. Its interstitial nature, sitting between white women’s pictures and race movies, between conventional melodrama and weird biting social commentary, make Peola the heart of the story, her discomfort with categorization aligning with the film itself.

Weird movie. Defies all expectations and predictions despite the seeming inevitability of its tragedies.

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