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pearl movie review imdb

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Something is not right with Pearl ( Mia Goth ), and she’ll never understand why. She’s too set in her ways, like her need to perform on haystacks while dancing with a pitchfork, or murdering animals when no one is watching. She wants to get out of her isolated farm in 1918 Texas, and experience the love that comes from performing, in being seen as an entertainer but not your truest self. It’s not likely her future star profiles would ever mention that she once impaled a duck with a pitchfork and then fed it to her best friend, an alligator (as we see when her name splashed across the screen in the opening credits).  

Ti West ’s “Pearl” is about how frightening actors can be as they feed that corrosive need to be seen at all costs. So it’s fitting that this movie’s most brilliant moment, its final shot (not a spoiler, as we know she makes it to 1979 in West's “ X ”), is from Goth using her face to disturbing ends. It’s a wide, forced smile; her teeth signal happiness, while her sporadically twitching facial muscles and welling tears say something much scarier, all while frozen in that desperation. West makes us stare at it during the closing credits. It’s all wildly, wonderfully discomforting, and one wishes this character study strove for that effect more often while telling a story that’s not as nuanced as its final, silent call for help.  

But for how obvious the plotting and dialogue can be from co-writers West and Goth in painting a portrait of a monster, it’s fun to interpret Pearl’s proclamations throughout her film as actor/serial killer double-speak: “The whole world is going to know my name,” “I don't like reality,” “All I want is to be loved.” Goth makes these revelations count in primal showcases, expressed with a breathy, heavily accented voice that’s meant to make her sound kind of naive and very much innocent, a carbon copy of the countless Pearls out there. A long-running close-up of Goth later on takes us on a wild ride of her anxieties about not being loved, her fears of her true self, unaware that the sudden turn within her is near, especially after someone makes her feel small. Then they suffer for it.  

Those who remember this year’s “X” will remember the farm where a handful of adult film folk died, and Goth’s elderly version of Pearl, who was often naked and rebuffed and took it all very personally for a course of events a la “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” The few kills in “Pearl” are more calculated, and come as climaxes to scenes of anger, rejection, and her own frustrations. West makes those moments count, creating dread out of a camera’s movement (slowly spinning at one point, waiting for Pearl to pop into frame), while his editing then has its own brutality. Usually taking place in daylight and within Pearl’s psychosis, they’re meant to be played as dark comedy. That very mix of tone doesn’t hit as poignantly as it wants to, but the kills are effectively bracing.  

The house is treated with similar shots as in “X,” but the cinematography by Eliot Rockett presents it in glowing Technicolor, a storybook world of potential—bright green grass, a blood-red farmhouse, blue sky overalls on Pearl as she dreams of getting away. Things are less luminous inside the home, where Pearl’s life of isolation and grave unhappiness is no anomaly: her father ( Matthew Sunderland ) is literally in a wheelchair, sick and wordless, and always needs tending to. And while “Pearl” is a monster movie, Goth’s character has a villain of her own, her mother Ruth, portrayed with haunting disgust this side of “ Mommie Dearest ” by an incredible Tandi Wright .  

Repression is evil’s trick in “X” and now “Pearl”; it makes connection, pleasure, and so much that is fruitful all the more out of reach. It gets people killed. Ruth helps make sense of the horror in this world, in a staggering centerpiece scene that lays it all out on a dinner table: she rips apart Pearl’s hopes of ever leaving, projects comments of failure onto her, and screams about her own immense dissatisfaction with life that she has accepted. Her words are visceral, and they seem to control the thunderstorms that boom from the outside. It's an apt turning point for Pearl, and an excellent display for both Goth and Wright.  

Pearl finds an escape from all of this in the movies—even just the thought of being in one. When her father needs more medicine, she goes to town and gets to actually watch one, inspiring her dreams of being the smiling dancing woman in the frame. She also meets a dashing projectionist ( David Corenswet ), who makes her feel like she could be a movie star, although she later finds out what kind of movies he means, and what he wants from her. Pearl remains as naive as she is needy as she tells him in wistful terms about wanting to be a star. It's here that we simply have to trust Goth and West’s dedication to this character and believe that they're rooting for her in the end.   

West's film takes place in a world that is sick, as the Spanish Flu has reached the states, causing people to wear masks and be isolated. That’s a stronger period element than the movie’s presentation; there’s a nagging effect that in spite of the production design—those cars, dresses, and even a full-out dance sequence—that the movie is so self-amused it’s practically baiting people who go to old movies in theaters to laugh at the niceties and mannerisms of earlier eras. It can be accomplished in other facets, like the gorgeous wall-to-wall score by Tyler Bates and Tim Williams that kicks off with a sumptuous main theme, but the aesthetic gambit of “Pearl” registers more as being cute than immersive.  

There are just too many moments in which the sincerity of “Pearl” is questionable. Yes, it gives Goth a compelling chance to nurture a fascinating character, to show a performer’s heart and needs, for us to clock her emotional reactions like the steps of a slasher. But the execution of “Pearl” is shakier in what it wants us to take from her delusions, her violent outbursts, her yearning for love. “Pearl” gets a little too close to letting you simply laugh at her. We know she wouldn’t like that.

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Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the former Senior Editor at and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Pearl movie poster

Pearl (2022)

Rated R for some strong violence, gore, strong sexual content and graphic nudity.

102 minutes

Mia Goth as Pearl

David Corenswet as The Projectionist

Tandi Wright as Mother

Matthew Sunderland as Father

Emma Jenkins-Purro as Mitzy

Alistair Sewell as Howard

Writer (based on characters created by)


  • Eliot Rockett
  • Tyler Bates
  • Tim Williams

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‘Pearl’ Review: A Farmer’s Daughter Moves Up the Food Chain

A horror-movie killer gets a surprising origin story in Ti West’s prequel to “X.”

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pearl movie review imdb

By A.O. Scott

If you have seen “X,” Ti West’s ingenious and heartfelt pastiche of ’70s horror and hard-core pornography, you know that Mia Goth plays two roles. (If you haven’t seen it, there are spoilers ahead.) She is Maxine, an aspiring movie star and the designated survivor of a rural killing spree. Disguised by prosthetic makeup, she is also a horny and homicidal farmer’s wife named Pearl, and does a lot of killing.

In “Pearl,” which Goth wrote with West, she repeats that role, playing Pearl as a horny and homicidal farmer’s daughter. That’s not the setup for a dirty joke, and this prequel, set in 1918, is less of a dirty movie than “X” aspired to be. There is some sex and plenty of gore, but mostly an atmosphere of feverish, lurid melodrama leavened with winks of knowing humor and held together by Goth’s utterly earnest and wondrously bizarre performance.

More than 50 years before the events in “X,” Pearl lives on the same Texas farm, with its creaky yellow house, its cavernous barn, and a hungry alligator in the pond. Her life is an endless cycle of toil and frustration. Her husband, Howard, is away at war, leaving her alone with her parents: a pious, dictatorial German mother (Tandi Wright) and a father (Matthew Sunderland) who has been incapacitated by the flu. Money is scarce, and Pearl escapes by sneaking off to the movies while she’s running errands in town.

She dreams of running off to pursue a career in pictures, practicing song-and-dance routines in anticipation of a big break. She also practices what we know from “X” will be one of her later vocations. When a goose wanders into the barn and looks at her funny, she impales it on a pitchfork and feeds it to the alligator. The arc of “Pearl” charts her progress up the food chain, from poultry to human prey.

The bloodshed is at least as grisly as the slaughter in “X,” but “Pearl” occupies a different corner of the slasher-movie universe. It isn’t especially suspenseful — the identity of the killer is never in doubt, and her victims don’t elicit much sympathy — but it has a strange, hallucinatory intensity. The emotions and the colors are gaudy and overwrought, the music (by Tyler Bates and Tim Williams) is frenzied and portentous, but the film is too sincere, too tender toward its peculiar heroine, to count as camp.

It’s also a bit thin and undercooked, but Goth’s performance transcends its limits. She is by turns childlike, seductive and terrifying. Pearl falls into an affair with the local movie-house projectionist (David Corenswet), who introduces her to French pornography and dazzles her with the promise of a Bohemian life free of small-town constraints. She seethes and simpers around her parents, and tries to be friends with her wholesome blonde sister-in-law (Emma Jenkins-Purro). Through it all, Pearl grapples with stifling social and domestic expectations and with her irrepressible hunger for freedom, fame and erotic release.

Goth might remind you at times of Judy Garland in youth, of Shelley Duvall in the ’70s, or of a demonically possessed Raggedy Ann doll, but she has her own fearless and forthright intensity. West wants you to see that Pearl, a monster in the making, is also a heroine for the ages. Goth will make you believe it. Or else.

Pearl Rated R. Stay out of the barn, and the basement. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes. In theaters.

A.O. Scott is a co-chief film critic. He joined The Times in 2000 and has written for the Book Review and The New York Times Magazine. He is also the author of “Better Living Through Criticism.” More about A.O. Scott

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Pearl Reviews

pearl movie review imdb

Ti West’s prequel cements the “X” Cinematic Universe as a force to be reckoned with.

Full Review | Nov 2, 2023

pearl movie review imdb

A mutli-layered exploration of womanhood in relation to exposure and performance.

Full Review | Original Score: 8.1/10 | Oct 29, 2023

pearl movie review imdb

To make all this work Pearl needs a star, and it has it in Goth, whose powerhouse performance elevates what could so easily be a cartoon villain.

Full Review | Sep 19, 2023

pearl movie review imdb

Pearl's journey mimics that of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. With a little more blood spatter than glittery shoes.

Full Review | Aug 6, 2023

pearl movie review imdb

You see West making more creative decisions and playing with different scenarios rather than sticking to the same old tricks up his sleeve. He reinvents himself, and with that comes a gem of a horror picture.

Full Review | Original Score: B+ | Jul 29, 2023

pearl movie review imdb

A great horror film that captures the dawning age of cinema beautifully well. Also has a great performance by Mia Goth that deserves all the awards she gets for her performance.

Full Review | Original Score: 5/5 | Jul 22, 2023

The result is a successful contrast between a visual language with hints of a fairy tale and a dark story that hides delirium behind the fantasy. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Jun 30, 2023

Bathed in a Technicolor that yearns for happiness that will never come, Pearl's red hues enhance the call to the madness of this addictive delirium. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Jun 26, 2023

Instead of lining up the victims and letting Pearl get her Lizzy Borden on, Goth and West ruminate in the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture.

Full Review | May 16, 2023

pearl movie review imdb

While Ti West’s X was a smart, sassy homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other rural horrors from the 1970s, it pales in comparison to the vivid Technicolor 1918 nightmare he and his star Mia Goth have unleashed here.

Full Review | Original Score: 4.5/5 | Apr 26, 2023

pearl movie review imdb

For a film with such darkness, violence and pitch-black humour, the visuals of Pearl are a technicolour delight.

Full Review | Mar 23, 2023

The film is more sumptuously upholstered than most exercises in kitsch, closer to David Lynch than John Waters, with one of those wraparound musical scores that feels like a mink coat.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Mar 20, 2023

Pearl wants so badly to be a star. Part of the film’s pleasure lies in realising that Goth already is.

Full Review | Mar 20, 2023

pearl movie review imdb

I'm quite sure no animals were harmed in the making of this film, but many of those farmyard critters don't make it out alive...

pearl movie review imdb

A savvy deepening and recontextualising of a must-see scary-movie franchise that's as much about desire, dreams and determination as notching up deaths.

Full Review | Mar 19, 2023

Goth is riotously entertaining throughout, but two specific scenes, in both of which the camera rests solely on her face for an extended shot, capture the full force of her unnerving talent.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Mar 18, 2023

pearl movie review imdb

She slashes, stabs and decapitates aplenty, and proves a dab hand with a pitchfork. That’s essentially the film. It’s Judy Garland goes rogue on a farm.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Mar 17, 2023

Goth’s energy, focus and commitment here is extraordinary.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Mar 17, 2023

This prequel to the much-admired 2022 slasher X is turbocharged by a gloriously bonkers performance by Mia Goth. Seriously, it's one of the best acting jobs you'll see this year -- a top hat-wearing, liquid morphine-guzzling, monologue-unleashing triumph.

Full Review | Original Score: 5/5 | Mar 17, 2023

pearl movie review imdb

Pearl’s torment is believable largely because Goth single-handedly wills it to be. Her commitment to every choked cry for attention, to every glassy-eyed departure from reality, is unimpeachable.

Mia Goth, wearing overalls and a blue work shirt, raises a pitchfork over her head in Ti West’s Pearl

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Pearl cements Mia Goth’s place as a true horror icon

The middle film in Ti West’s moviemaking horror trilogy is a colorful blast with one central problem

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Polygon has a team on the ground at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, reporting on the horror, comedy, drama, and action movies meant to dominate the cinematic conversation as we head into awards season. This review was published in conjunction with the film’s TIFF premiere.

When horror writer-director Ti West premiered his gory period slasher X at SXSW in March 2022, it came with a surprise reveal: an end-credits trailer for a prequel, Pearl , which would fill in the backstory of X ’s ruthless main villain. For Pearl ’s North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, West pulled a similar trick, with a teaser and announcement for a third film, MaXXXine , as a sequel to X . Where X is an ode to 1970s-style raw, grainy independent horror movies, West says MaXXXine will be inspired by the ’80s VHS boom — which the tracking lines, color glitches, and synth score on the MaXXXine teaser certainly underline.

That leaves Pearl as the middle movie in a trilogy (so far, at least), and also as the series’ biggest outlier. With stronger visuals than X , a phenomenal and ambitious performance from Mia Goth, but also an emptier and more meandering plot, Pearl loses the fun parts of Ti West’s pastiche. At the same time, it still delivers plenty of thrills and killer moments. It’s both a vividly painted nightmare and a showcase for its star.

X is firmly set during the independent filmmaking boom of the 1970s, as an homage to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre , as seen through the eyes of the porn industry. Mia Goth is stellar, pulling double duty as both final girl Maxine and as Pearl, the killer who comes after her. X has plenty of laughs, gory kills, inventive editing, and even some poignant commentary on show business and moviemaking ambitions.

Mia Goth dances in a blue spotlight onstage in Ti West’s Pearl

Pearl turns back the clock to tell Pearl’s story starting in 1918, when she’s a bright-eyed young woman (still played by Mia Goth) with big dreams of making it in the movies. The problem is that she’s stuck in a world too small for her. Her husband, Howard, is away in Europe, fighting the war to end all wars. In the meantime, Pearl is living at her parents’ farm under the thumb of her repressive German immigrant mother (Tandi Wright) and is forced to take care of her wheelchair-bound father (Matthew Sunderland) during the height of the Spanish flu pandemic, where people out on the streets wear masks over their mouths and noses, avoid close contact or indoor spaces, and constantly talk about the pandemic. A cacophony of coughing can be heard anywhere Pearl goes. What a coincidence!

Pearl hates her limited life under her mother’s eyes and judgment, and the only escapism she finds is at the movies. She dreams of being a dancer on the big screen, in front of big, adoring crowds. In the meantime, she dances to her animals, who she names after her favorite movie stars. She also occasionally kills one of them to feed the alligator that lives in the nearby pond. When she meets the self-serving projectionist (David Corenswet) at her local movie house, he sells her on big dreams of going to Europe and working as a dancer. He also grooms her, showing her a stag movie — the kind that paved the way for the indie porno shoot in X . Suddenly, Pearl sees a way out, and she’s willing to do anything to achieve it.

The primary reason to see Pearl is Mia Goth’s mesmerizing, tour-de-force performance. She infuses the role with enough innocence and wishfulness to make viewers root for her, even if they already know about her future crimes and are appalled by her choices in the present. While the look of the film may be inspired by Technicolor wonders like The Wizard of Oz , Goth’s performance is straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho , kind and charming one minute, terrifying and deranged the next.

Where X was heavily inspired by the cheap, DIY aesthetic of early indie slashers, Pearl is aimed at replicating colorful visions in the vein of Mary Poppins . Cinematographer Eliot Rockett imbues the film with bright, vivid colors, a soft palette, and a dreamlike quality, while Tyler Bates and Tim Williams’ score gives the film a rousing symphonic sound that makes Pearl’s journey feel as grand as Maria’s in The Sound of Music . Pearl is pure pastiche in style, but it works wonderfully, and it resonates as something that expresses West’s reverence, rather than as a parody or simple imitation.

Mia Goth climbs up onto the perch of a creepy-looking scarecrow to give it a kiss in Ti West’s Pearl

The problem is that the pastiche doesn’t feel as purposeful as it did in X . The very specific 1918 setting doesn’t seem to be there for any other reason than to include a COVID allegory. It isn’t about specific movie references, which don’t reflect the moviemaking of the 1910s, and it doesn’t comment on conservatism or censorship in film, as the setting comes decades before the Hays Code turned Hollywood into a prisoner of moral conservatism.

The script, co-written by West and Goth, doesn’t do much to deepen Pearl’s character — and why would it? She’s the thinnest excuse for a character in X , an ageist villain who murders young, attractive, sexually active people out of petty jealousy and spite, mostly to get across a wry sense of irony over the idea that old people still want to feel loved and desired. With Pearl , West and Goth had an opportunity to explore the environment that created Pearl’s sexual and killer drive, but they mostly leave it to viewers’ imaginations. Like X before it, Pearl presents its central character as little more than a stock slasher-movie psycho with selfish ambitions, no moral compass, and an appetite for blood.

Pearl is a showcase for Mia Goth as a horror star: The climax centers on a monologue where West holds the camera on her face for more than five minutes as she reveals what drives her. West paints a pretty picture in the film, building up gorgeous Technicolor nightmares, aided by painted backgrounds and bright colors. But the pieces don’t add up into anything more than a shiny surface. Pearl goes to show that just because you can shoot a movie in secret doesn’t mean you have to.

Pearl debuts in theaters on Sept. 16.

  • Entertainment /
  • Movie Review

Pearl is a slasher prequel that makes the original even better

A killer follow-up to x creates a promising new horror franchise.

By Andrew Webster , an entertainment editor covering streaming, virtual worlds, and every single Pokémon video game. Andrew joined The Verge in 2012, writing over 4,000 stories.

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Mia Goth in Pearl.

When X came out earlier this year, it was a capable, well-crafted homage to ’70s slasher flicks from director Ti West, but there wasn’t much to it beyond that. It turns out the project is much bigger than that one-off story. As was teased at the end of X , we now have a prequel, Pearl , that tells the origin story of its titular bloodthirsty killer. On their own, the two films each offer a satisfying amount of scares and gore. But it’s when you put them together that they become much more intriguing.

This review contains spoilers for both Pearl and X.

X told the story of a group of young folks attempting to film a porn movie in a rented farmhouse before being steadily killed by the murderous elderly couple they were renting from. Pearl explains how that couple got so murderous. Its predecessor pulled liberally from classic horror movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , but Pearl goes in a different direction. It’s much more like The Wizard of Oz. Only, you know, with lots of blood and guts.

Set in 1918, it stars Pearl (Mia Goth), a simple farm girl with dreams of being a star. Problem is, her husband (Alistair Sewell) is away fighting in World War I, her father (Matthew Sunderland) is sick with the Spanish flu, and her strict mother (Tandi Wright) needs Pearl’s help to keep their struggling farm going. Despite a seemingly cheery disposition, Pearl feels trapped. She sneaks out whenever she can to watch movies, dreaming of one day being a dancer on-screen. But it’s not long before the cracks start to show. Early on, she randomly kills a farm animal with a casual kind of blood lust, and later, she has a surprisingly intimate moment with a scarecrow. Something is wrong, and Pearl knows it. She just doesn’t know how to fix it.

Things really start to change when she meets the local projectionist (David Corenswet), a self-proclaimed Bohemian who introduces her to smut movies and the idea of living life for yourself. While her mother dismisses Pearl’s dreams, the projectionist actually supports them, fueling her desires. Soon after, her glamorous sister-in-law Misty (Emma Jenkins-Purro) convinces Pearl to audition for a local dance troupe. What follows is a series of unfortunate events that leads to Pearl ultimately becoming uncoupled from reality and taking her first steps into the wide world of being a slasher movie villain.

Pearl works as a standalone horror movie; the contrast between The Wizard of Oz vibe and the lurking dread builds a wonderful kind of tension and makes the moments of bloodshed hit that much harder. It helps that Goth turns in an incredible performance. She shines, particularly during a long, discomforting speech that sees her accept herself as well as the perfect yet painfully awkward credits sequence. Goth’s ability to swap between Pearl’s true self and the mask she wears in public is wonderful to watch.

Mia Goth as Maxine in X.

But what really makes the movie interesting is how it builds on, and adds layers and texture to, its predecessor. X made it clear that Pearl was full of spite and envy, yearning for her younger days. But now, those motivations are much more clear, to the point that she almost becomes a sympathetic figure. We also see how her husband is roped into the whole endeavor and even get an origin story for the alligator. No matter which order you watch them in, each movie strengthens the other.

This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, of course. Horror movies are often great at building up a mythology over the course of multiple films, whether it’s Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street . But with Pearl and X , much like with Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy , there’s an intentionality that’s clear from the beginning. The mythology isn’t being created on the fly; it’s there from the start, waiting for you to put the pieces together.

There’s more on the way, too: Pearl will be followed by Maxxxine , a direct sequel to X (I know, the titles are confusing) that sees Goth reprise her other role of Maxine as she attempts to make it in LA. Based on the first teaser , it’s clear Maxxxine will have an ’80s vibe, adding another flavor to West’s growing slasher story — and giving Goth another chance to establish herself as one of horror’s most promising new villains.

Pearl is in theaters on September 16th. This review is based on a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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Pearl review – Ti West’s demented Technicolor homage to old Hollywood

Co-writer Mia Goth is phenomenal as a deranged teenager breaking loose in rural Texas as the flu pandemic strikes

W ith its lush, sumptuously sweeping score, saturated Technicolor photography and kitsch wipe edits, Ti West’s Pearl would be a dead ringer for a 1940s melodrama were it not for all the axe violence and hayfork skewering. A prequel to West’s previous picture, X , it was co-written with star Mia Goth during a Covid quarantine period. The result of this meeting of twisted minds is a gloriously demented homage to old Hollywood. West combines witty cine-literacy with a flair for explosive bursts of deranged bloodshed. Just call him Douglas Sirk-opath.

The year is 1918. The first world war rages and a flu pandemic is claiming casualties on the home front. But Pearl (a phenomenal Goth) has big dreams that extend far beyond her life of joyless drudgery on her parents’ farm in rural Texas. She wants to dance, and plans to hoof her way out of Texas and into adoration and movie stardom. When she learns of an audition at the local church, she realises that this is her chance to escape her overbearing mother once and for all.

The full-blooded, gleefully lurid tone of the film-making demands an oversized performance to match, and Goth is more than up to the job. She peels back the skin of the character and fills it with kittenish cruelty and the creeping rot of madness, all topped off with a monstrous, distorting need to be loved. Goth is riotously entertaining throughout, but two specific scenes, in both of which the camera rests solely on her face for an extended shot, capture the full force of her unnerving talent.

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Lots of blood and gore in darkly feminist horror prequel.

Pearl Movie: Poster

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Addresses the extremely limited options women had

No positive role models. The main character turns

This is a woman-led story: The three strongest cha

Extreme blood and gore. Imaginary image of soldier

Vintage "stag" film shown for nearly a minute depi

A use of "stupid."

Cigarette smoking. Main character drinks from bott

Parents need to know that Pearl is the horror prequel to Ti West's X (2022). It's set decades earlier, in 1918, and tells the story of how the creepy elderly woman in the first movie became a homicidal maniac (Mia Goth plays the character at both ages). It's extremely bloody and gory but well made…

Positive Messages

Addresses the extremely limited options women had in the early 1900s, and throughout most of human history. Women with dreams may be forced to give them up to live a very narrow, preordained lifestyle not of their choosing. The movie rages against this system in a violent way.

Positive Role Models

No positive role models. The main character turns from victim to monster.

Diverse Representations

This is a woman-led story: The three strongest characters are women and, while not especially admirable, are the ones who drive the story. Very few characters; all are White.

Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.

Violence & Scariness

Extreme blood and gore. Imaginary image of soldier exploding, with blood and gore spattering everywhere. Woman's dress catches on fire; she's severely burned. Character killed, stabbed in head with pitchfork; lots of blood. Another hacked up with an axe; lots of blood, body parts shown. Someone is smothered with a pillowcase. Dead bodies. Characters slap one another. Stabbing a goose with a pitchfork; dead, bloody goose shown. Gory war footage in movie theater newsreel. Rotting pig covered in maggots. Jump scares. Nightmare sequence. Characters eaten by alligator. Threatening with knife. Main character smashes an alligator egg. References to WWI and the Spanish flu. Character considers feeding father to alligator. Spoken reference to a dead infant. Spoken references to killing animals. Violent sobbing, utter despair.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Vintage "stag" film shown for nearly a minute depicts a man with two sexual partners; there's full nudity, sex, thrusting, etc. Married main character kisses another man and wakes up in bed with him (sex implied). Main character pretends to "make out" with scarecrow, tongue-kissing; she sits on top of him and brings herself to orgasm. Main character bathes in front of her non-responsive father (nothing graphic shown).

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarette smoking. Main character drinks from bottle of morphine (medicine meant for her father).

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Pearl is the horror prequel to Ti West 's X (2022). It's set decades earlier, in 1918, and tells the story of how the creepy elderly woman in the first movie became a homicidal maniac ( Mia Goth plays the character at both ages). It's extremely bloody and gory but well made and smart; it's really a dark feminist tale. Characters are brutally killed with axes and pitchforks, and body parts are severed. People are also severely burned, suffocated, eaten by an alligator, even blown up (flinging gory bits everywhere). There are jump scares and nightmares and a rotting pig covered in maggots. Several seconds of a vintage "stag" film are shown, with full nudity, thrusting, and sex. The married main character kisses another man and wakes up in his bed, with sex implied. She also kisses a scarecrow (using her tongue), then writhes on top of him, bringing herself to orgasm. There's cigarette smoking, and the main character takes a swig of morphine. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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Based on 4 parent reviews

Keep this from your kids at all costs. The violence in particular is sadistic and explicit.

What's the story.

In PEARL, it's 1918 -- many decades before the events of X -- and young Pearl ( Mia Goth ) lives on a farm with her strict, stern mother ( Tandi Wright ) and her ailing father (Matthew Sunderland). Pearl is married to soldier Howard (Alistair Sewell) and is waiting for him to return from war. While she waits, Pearl dreams of being a dancer and seeing the world and being adored, but she feels stifled by her mother and her never-ending farm chores. During her rare trips to town, Pearl steals trips to the picture show to watch dance films. She meets the handsome, carefree projectionist ( David Corenswet ), who stirs something inside her. Then she learns from her sister-in-law, Mitzy (Emma Jenkins-Purro), about a dance contest at the local church; the winner gets to go on a tour. Pearl pins her every hope on winning the contest. If she doesn't, who knows what might happen?

Is It Any Good?

This prequel to X promises an origin story, and while it may leave off with more questions than answers, it's still a well-crafted gorefest and a vivid character study. Indeed, Ti West 's Pearl , which was co-written by its star, only suffers when taken together in context with its predecessor. Since the older Pearl appears in the 1979-set X , we know that, no matter what happens in this movie, she'll survive. But as the prequel ends, it doesn't really suggest how the 60 years in between the movies might be filled. Although perhaps that's the point -- it might be a stifling, decades-long blur of nothing. But judged on its own merits, this is a very good movie, hinging on a powerful and sympathetic performance by Goth. West sets up many highly atmospheric shots and striking images, including a vicious rainstorm, a flirtation with a scarecrow, a red dress, a dance number, a gothic dinner table tableau, and a shocker of a tracking shot.

An antique adults-only film and "X" images and references link Pearl to Goth's doppelganger Maxine from the first movie. There are also references to the Spanish flu pandemic of the time and to people having to wear masks. But the real key to Pearl is Goth's modulated performance, which effectively shows the character's wants and needs and the emotional cracks that form like fault lines when things twist or go awry. The movie's tour-de-force is a lengthy monologue -- with Goth emoting in long, unbroken takes -- unloading her innermost thoughts and feelings to Mitzy. The words tumble out like boulders in an avalanche. Her transformation into a psychotic killer is no accident, and it doesn't happen overnight. It's the product of her environment, as well as her gender and the time period. To some, those might have been the "good old days," but to women like Pearl, they were a trap.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about Pearl 's violence . How did it make you feel? Was it exciting? Shocking? What did the movie show or not show to achieve this effect? Why is that important?

How is sex depicted? What values are imparted?

Is the movie scary or just gory? What's the difference? What's the appeal of horror movies ?

What does the movie have to say about the roles of women in history? What options did a woman have in 1918? How have things changed? How have they remained the same?

How does the movie compare to its predecessor? How do the two movies complement each other?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : November 15, 2022
  • On DVD or streaming : November 29, 2022
  • Cast : Mia Goth , Tandi Wright , David Corenswet
  • Director : Ti West
  • Inclusion Information : Female actors, Latino actors, Female writers, Latino writers
  • Studio : A24
  • Genre : Horror
  • Run time : 102 minutes
  • MPAA rating : R
  • MPAA explanation : some strong violence, gore, strong sexual content and graphic nudity
  • Last updated : December 25, 2023

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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Pearl review: a star is born (and is very, very bloody)

Alex Welch

Pearl is a candy-coated piece of rotten fruit. The film, which is director Ti West’s prequel to this year’s X , trades in the desaturated look and 1970s seediness of its parent film for a lurid, Douglas Sirk-inspired aesthetic that seems, at first, to exist incongruently with its story of intense violence and horror. But much like its titular protagonist, whose youthful beauty and Southern lilt masks the monster within, there’s a poison lurking beneath Pearl ’s vibrant colors and seemingly untarnished Depression-era America setting.

Set around 60 years before X , West’s new prequel does away with the por nstars, abandoned farms, and eerie old folks that made its predecessor’s horror influences clear and replaces them with poor farmers, charming film projectionists, and young women with big dreams. Despite those differences, Pearl still feels like a natural follow-up to X . The latter film, with its use of split screens and well-placed needle drops, offered a surprisingly dark rumination on the horror of old age. Pearl , meanwhile, explores the loss of innocence and, in specific, the often terrifying truths that remain after one’s dreams have been unceremoniously ripped away from them.

At the center of both films is the lonely, impulsive serial killer that Mia Goth has now played at both the start and end of her life. In X , Goth’s dueling performances as Pearl and Maxine shione amid an array of memorable supporting turns from the film’s other stars. Pearl , conversely, puts Goth at the front and center of its story. In doing so, the film offers its star the chance to give one of the best and most vulnerable performances of the year so far.

Pearl begins in 1918, a year when many American men are still fighting the war overseas while those who are stateside have been left to grapple with the horror of the Spanish Flu. It’s a time that is capable of making anyone go a little mad, which is why it’s the worst — or perfect, depending on how you view it — environment for a young Pearl (Goth) to grow up in. When the film begins, Pearl is still living under the same suffocating roof as her domineering mother, Ruth (Tandi Wright), who makes her routinely bathe and feed her crippled father (Matthew Sunderland), all while Pearl is left to pray nightly for her husband, Howard (Alistair Sewell), to return home safely from the war.

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Her poor relationship with her mother, combined with her own crushing loneliness, has made Pearl want nothing more than to get far, far away from her family’s farm. While she’s been able to stave off the suffocating mood of her life by routinely escaping into her own fantasies, a sudden act of cheerful, nonchalant violence in the film’s opening minutes makes it clear that Goth’s future serial killer is already on the brink of total collapse by the time Pearl catches up with her. As a result, the film’s script, which West and Goth co-wrote together, doesn’t take on the same slasher movie structure as X .

Instead, Pearl frequently feels like a kind of twisted coming-of-age story. In fact, like all the great heroes in all the great coming-of-age stories, the journey Pearl goes on throughout the film is one of self-acceptance. Over the course of  Pearl ‘s 102-minute runtime, she’s forced to let her defenses down and learn how to be vulnerable in front of others. The only problem is that the real Pearl, the one she hides beneath a smile that feels alternately mischievous and menacing, has a habit of scaring those around her — and for good reason.

Pearl’s descent into full-blown madness is juxtaposed quite effectively against the film’s bright Technicolor look. The resulting effect is one that makes Pearl seem, at times, like a horror film directed by French filmmaker Jacques Demy. The film’s sets are covered in bright pastel colors (an alleyway drainpipe is noticeably painted pink in one memorable scene) in a way that even calls to mind a film like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg , which still looks as if it had been designed to look as sweet and delectable as possible. That said, the film that Pearl  has the most in common with is not The Young Girls of Rochefort or X , but Blue Velvet .

Like that 1986 David Lynch-directed classic, Pearl is interested in exploring the rot that lies beneath the surface of so many American archetypes. Pearl’s desperate desire to escape her hometown notably,places her in the same emotional space as practically every cinematic high schooler or Disney princess. But unlike so many of cinema’s other wanderlust-driven young protagonists, Pearl does not shine the longer she is left out in the sun. Instead, she sours, and so do her dreams, which start out innocently enough before growing increasingly violent and disturbing. The film, in turn, gradually replaces its pristinely painted red barns, golden scarecrows, and other pieces of familiar Americana iconography with recurring images of rotting hogs and half-burnt corpses.

Eventually, no matter how hard she tries to suppress it, there’s nowhere for Pearl’s growing instability to go other than to the surface. Once it does, Pearl  begins to indulge more in the kind of blood-soaked horror and brutality that X fans may have been expecting all along. However, as impactful as much of the violence is in Pearl ’s final third, it’s Goth’s red-faced, tear-streaked performance that ultimately takes center stage.

After opening with a delightfully macabre prologue, Pearl takes its time getting to the kind of violence and horror its story inherently promises. The film is a slow burn in a way that X very much wasn’t, which makes it far less superficially fun and rewatchable than West’s previous horror effort. Its second act, and especially the pace at which Pearl’s relationship with her mother develops, also drags in certain moments, which occasionally dulls the film’s overwhelming sense of unease.

But every time it seems like Pearl might get lost in the weeds of its own heightened vision of the past, Goth steps up and brings everything back into focus. The actress outdoes her work in X here, delivering a performance as Pearl ’s lead that elicits both pity and fear, often at the same time. Her performance is so central to Pearl , in fact, that the film essentially climaxes with a long monologue that plays out almost entirely in one unbroken close-up of Goth’s mascara-smudged face. The scene might be the best of Goth’s career so far, and it’s followed by an instance of cold-blooded brutality that might be the most technically impressive sequence West has ever pulled off (you’ll know it when you see it).

From there, Pearl achieves a kind of operatic quality that manages to mostly justify the prolonged build-up. Whether or not the film’s climax makes it as effective as that of X will, however, likely vary depending on the tastes of its viewers. X  made a lasting impression because of how it pulled its tropes from the wells of various horror classics only to twist them in ways that were often surprising and darkly funny. Pearl , on the other hand, frequently draws inspiration from movies and stories that are, at most, only tangentially related to the horror genre.

The resulting film is a sun-soaked and vibrant slice of technicolor horror that’s both more technically impressive and subtler than X . The film presents its horrors more nakedly than X does, but it traffics in a sense of unease that is far less visceral than the straightforward, slasher-driven violence of its predecessor. Neither approach is more valid than the other, but it’s a testament to West’s control of his craft that Pearl manages to cast the spell that it does, one that makes it impossible to look away even when the film’s rotten truths are literally staring you in the face.

Pearl hits theaters on Friday, September 16.

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Pearl (2022): Movie Review and Ending, Explained – Why is Pearl resentful towards Howard?

Pearl (2022) plot summary and synopsis:.

The year is 1918, and the movie begins with the camera panning forward as the stable door opens, and we are introduced to the Texas homestead where Pearl lives. We see her wearing what is later revealed to be her mother’s dress. As she looks at the mirror, we see the lights shut down, a spotlight drops on her, and we see her dancing to a classical musical score until suddenly, the door opens, and the dream breaks. Her mother chastises her for her tardiness and for trying out the dress without her permission and instructs her to go to the barn and feed the animals. At the barn, she voices to the animals her dreams of becoming a star, of being a chorus girl and part of a troupe, and as the music swells in the background and we believe in her head, she climbs up the bales of hay, almost structured like a stage, with the camera following her. As the music dies down, we see her looking at a stray goose entering the barn. Quizzically looking at it, she walks up to the goose and kills it with her pitchfork.

While we aren’t given the visual of her driving the pitchfork through the flesh of the goose, the immediate next scene is her walking towards the nearby lake, where she feeds the bloody carcass to her alligator named Theda. Like any classic Hollywood movie, the name of the movie appears in full greyish font with a big brassy score, meant to evoke the musicals of the 40s and 50s, but with a very tongue-in-cheek perspective, as evident by the name appearing the instant the alligator manages to bite the goose carcass.

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It puts the film’s timeline into sharper focus, as 1918 was when the Spanish Influenza virus global pandemic was at its fever pitch. It is made more evident as we follow Pearl cycling from her village to the town. We see people wearing masks and makeshift tents marked as “Standard Influenza Medicine Depots” as Pearl cycles over to the pharmacy to buy her father’s medicine. She then sneaks into the cinema hall to watch the musical “Palace Follies,” As she watches the showgirls perform, her mind fantasizes about being a part of this troupe someday. She later meets Johnny, the projectionist, outside the hall. A charming man, he compliments her on her looks and states that he wishes to see her on the screen someday, and then cuts out a frame of the film and gifts her.

She manages to wear the top hat of the Scarecrow, which comes under the notice of her mother’s watchful eye, who urges her not to bring it inside. She also urges her to wash her hair and ensure her father is cleaned up. The next scene shows Pearl washing her hair and recounting the film she watched with her father. As she sees the infirmed man almost dozing off, she tries to pinch his finger, almost tearing his skin off. Her almost childlike psychopathy comes to full effect when she whispers, “Are you still there?” and then almost tries to choke him. Later, at dinner, her mother informs her that eight cents are missing, and Pearl’s answer only serves to make her angrier and withhold her food because, according to her, “the food I worked hard to prepare is not your supper.”

Meanwhile, in the background, Pearl’s mother refuses the pig roast, which forces Mitsy’s mother just to lay the pig roast at the door in frustration. That night, Pearl sneaks out of the house and cycles out to the town to visit the projectionist. Johnny receives her warmly and entertains her with stories of Europe and how she had a chance of getting there and being the biggest star if “she wanted it bad enough.” He then entices her to watch a movie that “no one had seen before” and thus shows her “A Free Ride,” an illicit stag film he had acquired in Europe. That was the first time Pearl became cognizant of an underground adult film industry, how doing public fornication isn’t illegal, but filming is. And as Johnny portentously proclaims, this is the future, and he intends to encash it before it becomes big, and Pearl might even have a future in these films if she wants to.

How and why did Pearl kill her parents?

Her words would come to pass sooner rather than later. Her contemplation begins to take a far more sinister and concrete form when she attempts to push her father, who uses a wheelchair, down the lake and feed him to her pet alligator, but her mother interferes. In a rare moment of introspection, when Pearl asks her mother, “When do I get what I want?” her mother answers in the most pragmatic way befitting her—”One day you’ll understand. Getting what you want isn’t what’s important. Making the most of what you have is.” Pearl’s hatred for her husband too slowly starts to be visualized as something far more concrete than stray thoughts. She finds an alligator egg near the banks of the lake and squishes it in her hand, imagining her returning husband’s body exploding from the inside.

Pearl emphatically states that she is not under any illusion that she might have to live out on this farm for the rest of her days, but she is going to try to see if she can rise above this. Whether there is something better than the lot she is saddled with is unknown. She had never performed in front of an audience before and wanted to know whether she was good enough to be a star. Then Ruth, Pearl’s mother, drops the bombshell. She knows what Pearl has done. She knows what Pearl can do in private, and, as her emotional range revs up to 11, she screams, stating that Pearl is not well. Ruth was scared that the world would come to know about the malevolence and cruelty that she knew Pearl was capable of.

What made Pearl kill Johnny?

The next day, Pearl wakes up early so she can return to the farm to prepare for her audition. Johnny offers to drive her up to her farm. As they arrive, Pearl asks Johnny to wait while she goes inside and tries to tidy up the mess at her house. She tidies up her father and securely locks the door to her cellar. Meanwhile, Johnny becomes perturbed by the maggot-infested roasted pig still outside her door. His perturbed and suspicious nature starts to increase as she sees Pearl’s exceedingly theatrical nature while introducing him to her father, taking him to her bedroom, and engaging in a make-out session, irrespective of the noise coming from the basement. Johnny, feeling ill at ease, goes down to the kitchen to see the table, with the dishes of food strewn around, which have been unclean since last night.

As the car stops, Pearl pulls the stabbed Johnny out of the car and drives the pitchfork through his face, giving out a cathartic, angry yell. She then opens the basement to see the burnt, barely alive body of Ruth and whispers back to her what Ruth had said previously, “I want you to remember what it feels like because that’s how I felt when you looked at me.” She then pushes her further down the basement. Pearl then cleans her father up, dresses him up to the nines, and herself in one of Ruth’s lavish red gowns, before thanking her father for everything and then suffocating him with a pillow cover.

Pearl arrives at the church where her sister-in-law Mitzy is waiting for her so that they can wait for the audition together. Pearl, somehow, after the events of the morning, had a sense of brazen confidence about her and a determination that the only girl who would be selected to be part of this troupe must be her. Mitzy, on the other hand, was nervous and even convinced Pearl to switch seats with her so that she wouldn’t have to audition earlier. Pearl enters the room, climbs on the stage, and delivers the best performance she has ever given, according to her, lost in the haze of the performative high. But the judges soundly reject her, stating that she lacks the “X-factor” and that they are looking for someone younger, blonde, and “all-American.” As she is dragged off the stage, Pearl screams out that she is a star and that there has been a mistake. Distraught profoundly, Pearl is finally taken back home by Misty. In the kitchen, Pearl confides in Misty that something is very wrong with her. Mitzy consoles her and advises her to share all her fears with Howard, her husband, because he loves her and would understand. She advises Pearl to practice the confession on her, pretending she is Howard.

Pearl (2022) Movie Ending, Explained – Why is Pearl resentful towards Howard?

MIa Goth as X in Pearl (2022)

She then revealed that she had suffered from a miscarriage but was relieved to hear that. She could not bear the thought of being a mother and was repulsed at the idea of something growing inside her. Her dream was to be in the pictures, to be adored, loved, and desired. She hated feeling this way; unloved, unable to understand what was wrong with her, and her prayers not being answered by God. Sometimes her fear washes over her, and she is forced to wonder whether this is the extent of her life. Whether she would be able to move forward beyond her farm was unclear. She acknowledges that her mama was right about her being weak, and now she is scared that Howard will finally return home and see her for what she truly is and become frightened of her.

Mitzy is too stunned to speak after that confession and gets up from the table to leave, stating that her mother would be worried if she was late. As she begins to leave, Pearl asks her whether she is frightened of her or whether she thinks Pearl is sick. After Mitzy answers negatively to both of them, fully cognizant at the moment as to how dangerous Pearl is, Pearl manipulates her into confessing that she had been selected for the dance troupe. After she answers in the affirmative, Pearl gives a wry smile and states, “You always get everything that you want. You are younger and more blonde.” As Mitzy opens the door and begins to leave, she sees Pearl coming out of the house with an axe. She tries to escape, screaming for help, but Pearl catches up to her and swings her axe, maiming Mitzy. She falls to the ground, and Pearl towers over her, and as she sobs and implores that she would do anything Pearl wanted, Pearl repeats Ruth’s advice given to her near the lake-“It’s not about what I want. It’s about making the best of what I have, “and swings the axe and kills her.

As the movie ends with that unnerving and creepy smile adorning Pearl’s face, we are left to wonder how Howard survived. As the events of “X” had already foretold, Howard survives the carnage. It could be inferred that he stuck around with his mass-murdering wife either because he didn’t want to meet the same fate as his in-laws or because he truly loved her and recognized she wasn’t well and wanted to take care of her. It could also be safely inferred that Howard might have been responsible for keeping Pearl’s murderous tendencies limited to the boundaries of their farm.

Pearl (2022) Review and Analysis

By putting the film smack dab in 1918, in the middle of the Spanish Influenza-affected global pandemic, West is also trying to comment on the very real pandemic we are in the midst of almost a century later. It explores the feelings of isolation and cabin fever, the heightened moments of loneliness, and the urge to escape the monotony of small-town drudgery, to realize whether her current lot of life is the only form in which life exists. This feeling only gets compounded as Pearl’s mother’s strictness feels warped due to fear of the pandemic and the fear of understanding and realizing Pearl’s malevolence. 

At the core of Pearl is the Mia Goth show, where Goth single-handedly elevates the material with a performance bordering on incandescent. You cannot look away, and it is because of Goth that Pearl manages to remain sympathetic to us even after her murdering ways take over her. Goth successfully captures the emotional whiplash which Pearl goes through as paranoia and anger take over her.

It is undeniable that at 102 minutes, Pearl (2022) feels longer than it has to. The slower pacing might feel intentional, but there are moments where scenes occur that feel redundant or have already been set up by dialogue. However, the moments underscoring or building up the violent acts are well done. A healthy dose of restraint is shown here during those moments, which catapults this prequel above its predecessor. While it tries to explore more profound moments of isolation and mental health, Pearl never loses sight of its demented charm and its skewering of its homages, unlike in X, where the homages felt more slavishly faithful than anything else. But as far as iconography in horror is concerned, Pearl might just have cracked it.

Checkout – Here’s Where to Watch and Stream A24’s New Slasher Movie ‘Pearl’ Online

Pearl (2022) Movie Links: IMDb , Letterboxd Cast: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro

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A cinephile who is slowly and steadily exploring the horizons of the literature of films and pop culture. Loves reading books and comics. He loves listening to podcasts while obsessing about the continuity in comics.


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‘Pearl’ Review: Anthony LaPaglia and Larsen Thompson Are Well-Matched in an Uneven but Affecting Drama

Writer-director Bobby Roth peppers his tale of family ties with inside-showbiz allusions.

By Joe Leydon

Film Critic

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Wildly uneven but sporadically affecting, Bobby Roth ’s “Pearl” is a curiously disjointed drama that relies on the compelling performances of veteran actor Anthony LaPaglia and promising newcomer Larsen Thompson for most of its emotional impact. A few abrupt narrative transitions indicate that some scenes, for whatever reason, must have been discarded during the editing process. But what remains on screen is enough to hold attention and generate rooting interest, especially if you’re amused by inside-baseball allusions to the film and TV industry.

There is an unmistakable air of autobiography to “Pearl,” along with the distinct flavor of a labor of love. Writer-director Roth first attracted notice with two well-received indie films, “The Boss’ Son” (1978) and “Heartbreakers” (a 1984 Sundance Festival prize-winner) before concentrating almost exclusively (and prolifically) on TV movies and series television. Jack Wolf, LaPaglia’s character, is a filmmaker who evidently has made some very bad, maybe unforgivable career moves, but still sells the occasional TV script.

At one point, he lands a gig teaching filmmaking to college students — which Roth has successfully done in real-life — despite the skepticism of a dean (Bruce Davison) who suspects Jack will quit “if a spot opens up on ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’” (Before you ask: Yes, Roth has directed episodes of that show.) In another scene, he hesitates to attend a party — but only until he learns the host (Reed Diamond) is “one of the top agents in TV packaging.” Hey, a man’s got to schmooze where a man’s got to schmooze.

A little bit of this wink-wink, nudge-nudge stuff goes a long way, and Roth wisely devotes just enough time to it. The beating heart of “Pearl” is the title character, played by Thompson, and the tragedy that bonds her with Jack. When we first meet Pearl, she comes across as so smart and self-assured that, even though she’s only 15, she really doesn’t sound like she’s bragging while she tells a school counselor that she has her sights set on “Harvard or Yale,” and plans to pursue “a double major of political science and global economics.”

Unfortunately, she also announces, “I want to control my destiny.” And we all know what happens to people who say things like that early in a movie, right?

Sure enough, Pearl soon finds herself orphaned after Helen (Sarah Carter), her beautiful mom, is fatally shot in a jealous rage by her wealthy live-in lover (Nestor Carbonell), who then turns his weapon on himself. Eve (Barbara Williams), Pearl’s alcoholic grandmother, is in no shape to care for her. (Actually, she appears to have wandered in from a ’70s sitcom.) But when Helen’s lawyer (J. August Richards) opens a letter from his deceased client identifying Jack as Pearl’s biological father, the table is set for a story about the reluctant forging of new family ties.

Jack — whose years-ago romance with Helen is effectively dramatized in evocative black-and-white flashbacks — never knew of Pearl’s existence until Helen’s death, and isn’t terribly eager to accept paternal responsibilities. Pearl is even less enthusiastic about accepting Jack as a father — and not just because it means transitioning from private to public school, and living with a stranger whose employment opportunities seem, at best, limited.

On the other hand, Pearl can’t help noticing that, unlike Eve, Jack does not live in a home blanketed with thickets of empty gin and champagne bottles. And Jack grudgingly acknowledges that being responsible for a daughter could be a strong incentive to find a steady job — like, teaching filmmaking to college students. It’s not difficult to predict how this impromptu relationship turns out. But it’s not at all unpleasant to watch the relationship blossom.

Indeed, except for an unplanned pregnancy that plays like something out of “A Summer Place,” the only thing that might really grate on your nerves is the seriously mixed signals given in regard to Helen’s personality. Yes, she’s undoubtedly a loving mom. But Roth none-too-subtly indicates that Helen habitually attached herself to inappropriate men she never intended to marry, then made them jealous — in one case, murderously so — by taking other lovers. It’s possible that one could make a fascinating psychodrama with that as a plot. As a subplot, however, it feels kinda-sorta icky here.

Roth backs his leads with well-cast supporting players, including two — Melissa Macedo as Silvia, Pearl’s street-smart Latinx classmate, and Nighttrain Schickele as Zack, a music-store clerk just old enough to qualify when Pearl seeks a guy with “experience” — who are sorely missed when they disappear from the storyline. And cinephiles likely will appreciate the scene in which Jack tries to interest Pearl in one of his favorite films, Denys Arcand’s “The Barbarian Invasions.” The guy may have obvious faults, but his good taste in cinema most certainly is a redeeming quality.

Reviewed online, Houston, Aug. 9, 2020. Running time: 93 MIN.

  • Production: A Quiver Distribution release of a Jung and Restless presentation of a Jeffrey White production. Producers: Jeffrey White, Bobby Roth. Executive producers: Gary Fleder, Smitty Smith.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Bobby Roth. Camera: Chris Burns. Editor: Jean Crupper. Music: Paul Haslinger.
  • With: Anthony LaPaglia, Larsen Thompson, Sarah Carter, Barbara Williams, Melissa Macedo, J. August Richards, Nighttrain Schickele, Bruce Davison, Reed Diamond, Nestor Carbonell.
  • Music By: Paul Haslinger

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