Every piece of marketing for Amazon’s I LOVE DICK focused on obsession. This is a show about obsession. A show about a woman’s obsession with a man. All the headlines, when the think pieces came rolling out were about the role reversal of the male gaze. I Love Dick, true to it’s title, reversed the desiring eye of both the protagonist and the camera to the lonely artistic cowboy of Dick, expertly played by Kevin Bacon. And it worked. Step aside, Footloose, this is the most appealing Kevin Bacon has been and ever will be. However, there is so much more than this momentous gendered shift in I Love Dick. It begs the watchers to dissect, unpack and shift their perspectives about the characters, about sex, about love, about gender, and about the nature of art itself. It’s a thinker, to say the least.
Much like the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, there is a lot to unpack. The novel, praised heavily in academic feminist circles, can be remarkably poignant and remarkably pretentious all at once. From the perspective of someone who is blissfully unaware of the politics of the art world, the novel of I Love Dick could be a chore to read. The eight episode series, however, though it dips its foot into the same academic pretentiousness, has the serious advantage of being a visual medium, and not being tied to the idea of first person.
The show starts off following filmmaker and writer Chris Kraus (the impeccable Kathryn Hahn), as she accompanies her husband Sylvere (Griffin Dunne) to his fellowship in Marfa, Texas, where he will study under the enigmatic Dick himself. The show quickly devolves into the aforementioned obsession Chris has with Dick. Dick is a loner, he is beautiful, he is wrapped up in his masculinity, making him a real, for lack of a better word, dick. Chris’s desire for Dick, and how if affects her sex life, her love life, and her art is a sight to behold. At times it is hard to watch these three characters circle each other, as they are all horrible in their own ways. Dunne is quiety infuriating as Sylvere, his rage slowly coming to the surface as the series progresses. Bacon is the perfect casting choice for Dick, still somehow maintaining his charisma and sex appeal even when blatant sexism spills from his mouth.
By and large though, the standout performance of I Love Dick, and the reason the show is so compelling is the marvel that is Kathryn Hahn. A leading role for Hahn has been long overdue, but I Love Dick proves that it was worth the wait. Her Chris is beautiful, ugly, visceral, incredibly sad, and fifty other adjectives that could take up the majority of this review. The sheer passion in Hahn’s performance, and the nuance she puts into every moment, elevates the show to a higher level.
Even with these stunning performances, the main trio’s story lags a few times, particularly in the first half of the series. It becomes exhausting at times to watch these three unhappy, unkind people stab at each other’s sensitivities. Luckily, this is where the show has advantages over the book. The town of Marfa has its own cast of characters, it’s own set of intriguing and complex women. The show’s fifth episode, “A Short History Of Weird Girls,” explores these character’s in a surreal and beautiful way. Each episode of the show is framed by Chris’s letters to Dick, but in this particular episode, we get to see the hypothetical letters that other women would write to Dick. This includes art curator Paula (Lily Mojekwu), playwright Devon (Roberta Colindrez) and artist Toby (India Menuez.)
These three women along with Chris and their younger selves, describe how Dick and men like him affect their lives and their art. It’s a fascinating look at how self-assuredly masculine and talented assholes like Dick can be a figurehead for the gender bias in the art industry. This episodes shifts the focus to women who aren’t necessarily attracted to Dick, but he still has the patriarchal power over them. For example, it’s heartbreaking to see Dick deny Paula’s picks of female artists for the museum, and it’s intoxicating to watch Toby win accolades and tell Dick she’s coming for his status as an artist.
One of the most fascinating vignettes and characters is found in Devon. She sees the way Dick relates to women, and wants to be that, her own sexy cowboy. Over the course of the whole series, Devon is a pivotal player. It’s refreshing to see a young Latex lesbian, in this world of straight white artists. Her talent and sex appeal echoes Dick’s, but is seen through a distorted mirror, one that includes her queerness, and her family’s subjugation at Dick’s hands. Devon has the swagger and the magnetism of Dick, the desperation and desire of Chris, and an intimate knowledge that neither of them possess.
These characters combine fluidly with the visual style captured in Andrea Arnold’s directing to make a piece of art much like the ones so often discussed on the show. It’s no coincidence that the writing and directing is all done by women. In the first episode, Dick casually dismisses women filmmakers while Chris angrily scrambles to defend her gender. It’s an infuriating scene, as the calm sentiment of an intellectual man is an enemy that women know far too well. The entire eight episodes of I Love Dick are a massive middle finger to Dick and the infinite men out there who dismiss the art and labor of women. Using the the lens, the pen, and the art of female talent all showcased in I Love Dick put Dick in his place in they way that Chris longs to.
Yes, this is a show about obsession with a man, with Dick, but it stretches so much further than sexual desire. It’s about the obsession with his masculinity, what makes him hold this immense power over women. And it’s about tearing him down.
Season 1, Episodes 1-8 (S01E01-08)
I Love Dick is now streaming on Amazon Prime
Raina spends most of her time watching television and trying to find the perfect bagel and lox, because she likes being emotionally distraught.
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Raina Deerwater | Contributor