Mildred Hayes begins Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri unshaken in her convictions, only to wind up in a place where her doubts hide behind a façade of bluster. Similarly, we’ve spent much of these last few weeks gradually losing assurance that the beautifully realized characters, brisk rising action, incisive dialogue, and political resonance of both Greta Gerwig’s script for Lady Bird and Jordan Peele’s for Get Out will on their merits be able to stave off Martin McDonagh’s work on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. To some extent, the momentum surrounding best picture candidates always finds a way to trickle down to Oscar’s screenplay categories, and this year’s top award is in a state of ongoing pandemonium. What else can possibly rise above that din except McDonagh’s Trumpland soliloquies?
McDonagh very well may have had this one in the bag the moment Mildred first utters the word “culpable” to her friendly visiting priest, j’accusing him of being party to “altar-boy-fucking,” a grandstanding speech as one-sided and truly apropos of nothing as any in the film but which also gives the audience members most likely to virtue-signal a reason to let down their guard. Which comes in mighty handy when giving carte blanche to his entire ensemble to out-cuss Selina Meyer’s cabinet. (Or when, in the published script for the film, he follows up a little person’s impassioned speech on behalf of his own swipe-right cred with the stage direction: “James climbs down off his chair.”)
You don’t have to be one of the film’s harshest critics to find its attack on political correctness sloppy—for certain outspoken Oscar voters, the same goes for Get Out’s horror-movie transmutation of identity politics—but you would have to be [insert virtually any word used by any Three Billboards character here] to think McDonagh isn’t aware that noisily inserting himself into the debate at this moment in American history automatically gives him the benefit of the doubt. Which is why we’re betting that his film’s triumph of text above subtext coasts past Get Out’s inversion of that same dynamic.
Could Win: Get Out
Should Win: Lady Bird