Merritt Wever and Toni Collette in Unbelieveable

Beth Dubber / Netflix

The race for the 2020 Emmys already has impressive contenders. On Netflix's Unbelievable, the trio of Kaitlyn Dever, Toni Collette, and Merritt Wever should not only receive nominations but win for their moving performances.

Unbelievable is inspired by the 2015 Pulitzer-winning ProPublica and The Marshall Project's report, "An Unbelievable Story of Rape," which chronicles the 2008-2011 Washington and Colorado serial rape cases. Kaitlyn Dever plays Marie Adler, a teenager who experienced a brutal assault and rape at the hands of an attacker who broke into her apartment in 2008. At first, the police showed sympathy and care towards Marie. However, due to her crippling anxiety and inability to lean on and trust those in power, Marie began to forget and alter tiny details in the assault after days of constant torment and questioning from the detectives. Instead of focusing on the big picture (i.e.finding the culprit), the police berated Marie for these minute details and eventually coerced her into lying about the rape. Then they charged Marie with filing a false report and dropped the case entirely.

The pilot displays Marie's tragedy and its aftermath in the community. The episode includes harrowing and disturbing flashbacks to the night of Marie's assault. The 58-minute episode is tear-jerking with its depiction of the police's lack of compassion and the overall negligence.

Unbelievable | Official Trailer | Netflix www.youtube.com

In particular, the show gives Dever a chance to showcase her impressive acting ability. The 22-year-old is having a landmark year thanks to her starring role in Booksmart. Dever's performance is raw, gut-wrenching, and powerful. Throughout the series, her character's arc is uncomfortable to watch. You find yourself wanting to look away but feel compelled to see for yourself how the system failed this poor victim.

After the pilot, the series takes a much-needed emotional break from Marie's saga and introduces two new characters, Detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever). Rasmussen and Duvall are detectives in neighboring Colorado towns who are brought together in 2011 when they discover similar characteristics in their respective rape cases. By sharing case details and interviews from new victims, it becomes clear that the same attacker in Colorado is more than likely the same criminal who assaulted Marie in Washington three years prior. Essentially, the series becomes two shows in one: a tragic look into Marie's case in 2008 and a buddy cop drama about two female detectives working together to solve the case.

The chemistry between Collette and Wever is magnetic. Collette's foul-mouthed and witty Rasmussen counteracts and meshes perfectly with Wever's patient and empathetic Duvall. While Marie's story is excruciating to witness, Rasmussen's and Duvall's relationship is far more entertaining and enjoyable. Collette and Wever keep the audience entertained and engaged despite discussing tough matters of sexual assault and domestic violence. The quest to find the serial rapist wraps you into the story and keeps you coming back even if it means revisiting disturbing case details.


Kaitlyn Dever Kaitlyn Dever in UnbelievableBeth Dubber / Netflix

Unbelievable has rightly been called one of the best shows of 2019 by Vulture, and both the series and its actors deserve Emmy nominations in the limited series categories next year (they sadly missed the cut off date for the 2019 Emmys). Both Collette and Wever have previously won Emmys (Collette for United States of Tara and Wever for Nurse Jackie and Godless), while Dever has given multiple noteworthy performances so far in her young career.

Sexual assault and victim shaming is a tricky topic to portray onscreen because of its sensitivity and likeness to real crimes. Marie's case is just one of the many sexual assault cases that are reported each day. According to RAINN, one American is sexually assaulted every 92 seconds. That's why Unbelievable treats this subject with the professionalism and respect it deserves. Thanks to three superb performances that channel the trauma of the case so expertly, Unbelievable is a difficult, but necessary watch.

FILM & TV

SATURDAY FILM SCHOOL | "You're tearing me apart Lisa!"

"I got the results of the test back. I definitely have breast cancer."

A24/ Warner Bros. Pictures

Could we count the ways James Franco and Tommy Wiseau are similar?

Whether he's actually sedated by Pineapple Express or just really happy all the time, James Franco appears to be eternally stoned. Browsing through Franco's filmography on IMBD, a true fan could detail when Franco's pothead aesthetic went from novice smoker to the guy who does bong rips and dabs for breakfast. His wide, jubilant grin is a telling sign, contorting his face into layers of wrinkles as his eyes open just enough, indicating his earthly cognition.

James Franco has done it all or has at least tried to. He has an M.F.A. from Columbia, a master's in filmmaking from NYU, and was even a professor at NYU, UCLA, and Colombia just for kicks. Outside of his scholastic endeavors, most people know Franco as Spidey's best friend (and frenemy in the inexcusably bad Spider-Man 3), or as the other half of the Hollywood bromance with Seth Rogen. Seth Rogen is the peanut butter to Franco's jam and The Disaster Artist, inspired by a memoir of the same name, is the bread to their midafternoon lunch. This buddy comedy interprets how its source material, the cult sensation The Room, came to be: Given the Franco and Rogen treatment, one of the worst movies ever made now stars Franco as Tommy Wiseau and, to no one's surprise, Franco lands the woozy, slurred performance by acting like a knockoff brand of himself.

Could we count the ways James Franco and Tommy Wiseau are similar? Yes and no (in fact, James Franco has probably written a term paper psychoanalyzing the parallels of Wiseau's imago with his own). Would Franco have been a Wiseau had he not found his comedy niche or a Rogen to counter his wild antics? Yes and no. The Disaster Artist conveys how someone can make a piece of art so bad that it's lauded by everyone for its badness. How can something so tacky, so cheap, and so weird still find itself in arthouse theaters around the States? And how can a movie that has the aesthetic of a back-alley porno get Hollywood recognition from one of the finest bromances to grace the silver screen?

Well, for every Tommy Wiseau desperate for fame and fortune, there's a friend who's willing to back up his bad ideas because of…friendship. Yep, The Disaster Artist is about friendship and the early stages of creation, what it feels like to have an idea you believe in enough to become a pariah. Franco is joined by his little brother, Dave Franco (who plays Greg Sestero), an aspiring actor who, unlike Wiseau, has a shot at acting. The Disaster Artist is a hilarious enactment of some of the best worst acting you've ever seen; the Franco brothers share a weirdly poetic exchange onscreen as friends trying to make it big, and Seth Rogen (as Sandy Schklair) sits in a chair winking at the audience like: "Look, we get the joke and then some."

Watching The Room is similar to watching any movie in the Twilight franchise: it's a cringeworthy experience, yes, but it's also your favorite comedy of all time, a noteworthy addition to the films your friends come over to hate-watch with you on Friday nights. The fun is there because Tommy Wiseau was somehow able to convince a cast of actors and a production crew to film the type of movie you'd believe in after five bowls of Pineapple Express, one filmmaking tutorial on YouTube, and a pep talk from a hobo wearing Chanel slippers. It doesn't matter if the actors you've convinced to star in your romantic melodrama are all doing laxative commercials to pay rent, or that your voice slightly sounds like you're from a faraway land where a Yiddish and New Orleans accent intertwine. You too can dream big and make a wonderfully bad movie.

Classroom Takeaways

Here's a fun drinking game. Take a shot every time Tommy Wiseau seems confused by the cameras in front of him. Have a paramedic on standby.

POP⚡ DUST Oscar-worthy Score: ⚡


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


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