Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Teen girls being radicalized is a hot button issue. SNL spoofed it perfectly, but that was satire, and there’s nothing really funny about the scary fact this is happening. The French now have their dramatic take on this with co-writer-director Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar’s HEAVEN WILL WAIT. While it’s clear she condemns the abhorrent practice and exposes ISIS’ idiosyncratic nature, she doesn’t take a hard judgmental line when it comes to her characters. Even SNL’s take was more stinging. The activist spirit comes from the right place, but the heavy-handed execution is chock full of melodramatic TV movie contrivance.
The narrative is explored through the lens of two young women: Sonia (Noémie Merlant), who’s being deprogrammed, caught almost committing a crime, and Melanie (Naomi Amarger), who’s becoming radicalized. Peppered throughout are cutaways to a parental support group through the eyes of Melanie’s blindsided single mom Sylvie (Clotilde Courau). Sonia’s middle-class parents (Zinedine Soualem and Sandrine Bonnaire) try to protect their daughter from herself, holing her up in their apartment and cutting her off from technology (specifically a bunch of lousy auto-tuned ISIS recruitment videos). But Melanie is groomed on Facebook by a smooth-talking hustler, converts to Islam and travels to Syria for them to marry.
It’s really a shame that the material doesn’t blossom outside of the pamphlet wisdom that birthed Mention-Schaar and co-writer Emilie Frèche’s script. They leave most of the issue’s educational information to expository dialogue dumps by the film’s consultant (Dounia Bouzar). Needless to say, that’s a bad way to project authority on the issue. Though this seems like it would be a good tool to help real-life affected families, it doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions beyond the trite platitude, “You’ve gotta just love them into submission.”
The wannabe docu-drama is also not brief. Clocking in at 100 minutes, it feels twenty minutes too long – especially given the fact that we don’t grow to care about either girl’s plight. Sonia is arrested for involvement in a planned jihadist attack. She automatically begins as someone the audience doesn’t like. We don’t care about seeing her saved, nor do we care about her motives. Melanie becomes woke to the cause in a matter of days. Also infuriating is when the film defies logic. Why Sonia isn’t in juvie is beyond me. Maybe that’s just how the system works in France.
The filmmakers also make conflicting choices about their characters. Sonia and Melanie are both astute, confident young women (Sonia defiantly strips naked to the horror of her parents), but also join ISIS because of an adolescent decision to follow the cute boy (Melanie) or be part of the crowd (Sonia). It makes it confusing to try to figure out what Mention-Schaar and Frèche are trying to say since they aren’t being definitive. “Look how innocent,” they shout with alarmist cries, but show these girls as fully capable, rational almost-adults.
HEAVEN WILL WAIT wants to be a wake-up call, however, it doesn’t know what to do with itself once the alarm rings.
HEAVEN WILL WAIT screened at COLCOA on April 29 and 30. It does not currently have US distribution.