- Movie Rating -

Dead Ringers (2023)

| May 3, 2023

The most refreshing thing about Amazon Prime’s Dead Ringers, the new 6-part miniseries based on David Cronenberg’s 1988 thriller is that it has a reason to be.  At a moment when everything is being remade, rebooted and repackaged, it is nice to find familiar subject matter that has a clever twist and ties in our current reality.  Disney could take lessons.

Cronenberg’s film was a flawed piece of gross-out nonsense that none-the-less featured a brilliant dual performance by Jeremy Irons as identical twin brothers whose personalities were so distinct that he might have qualified for two Oscar nominations (sadly, he got neither).  Birch’s remake, from Normal People creator Alice Birch, features Rachel Weisz in an equality brilliant dual role as Eliot and Beverly Mantel, twin gynecologists whose mission to build a state-of-the-art, privately-funded birthing center brings to the table issues of reproductive freedom that stares down recent issues over women’s autonomy with regards to their own bodies.  The most chilling element here is that Cronenberg’s trademark body horror has been replanted to the issues of women’s health.

Weisz gives her single best performance (performances!), possibly even better than her Oscar-winning work in The Constant Gardner.  It might have been just a stunt to have her play twins, but she creates each sibling so completely that often you forget that you’re looking at the same person.  In their struggle to fund and built the birthing center, the two are always at odds with one another.

We meet the two working at a Manhattan hospital where they witness the cattle-run of women giving birth.  Eliot is the tougher, more freewheeling half, more interested in research and science.  She wants the clinic to focus on research that is free of the strangle-hold of the FDA’s so-called ethics.  Beverly is the weaker and more sensitive and has a heart aimed at patient care.  Her idea is to creating a safe space in which birth is not seen or treated like a carnival freak show.

The opportunity comes thanks to Rebecca (Jennifer Ehle), a perspective billionaire investor whose interests are entirely financial and whose heart is made purely of ice.  The game that the sisters have to play with Rebecca and her counteractive wife Susan (Emily Meade) bring about, for me, the weaker points of the series.  But the possibility that the clinic may become a reality brings about long-dormant fractures in the sister’s relationship and in Beverly’s budding romance with a TV star named Genevieve (Britne Oldford), the first relationship apparently in their lives that they haven’t shared in any way.

Much of the story I cannot discuss without spoilers, but I’ll just say that the story gets down and dirty both with the twin’s relationships, their ambition and the hoops that they are forced to jump through.  Birch mixes well the sibling rivalry at play but plays it as an interesting duality of a woman in a top profession, forced to be one-part maternal (Beverly) and one-part bulldog (Eliot) in order to succeed in a profession traditionally dominated by men.

This is a complex story, one that explores this relationship and these issues in a narrative that can often be off-putting and sometimes unwatchable, particularly in the scenes of miscarriages and c-sections.  But it’s all for the cause.  I felt that Cronenberg’s film used those images for an external purpose, for creating a gross-out film that only paid lip-service to a story that was about how Western medicine treats childbirth.  Birth’s series takes it internal, to show us the horror show of cattle-line childbirth in real time, so to speak.

My only problem comes toward the end.  I think it trying to be stylistic, the series gets off course.  Too many choices, too many ideas, too many character details with the forward cast and not enough with the supporting players.  Truthfully, I got lost in all of the interpersonal madness despite the fact that it DOES and well.  I might wish for a much cleaner narrative, something that focused on the issues and less on the multitude of tricks that it’s trying to perform.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2023) View IMDB Filed in: Drama