Wildcat is a breathtaking tribute to Flannery O'Connor and her gothic fiction

This captivating new film from Ethan and Maya Hawke is sure to delight fans of the iconic writer.
Wildcat - Courtesy of Oscilloscope Labs
Wildcat - Courtesy of Oscilloscope Labs /

Anyone who's taken an American literature class or a creative writing course has likely encountered Flannery O'Connor. She's the queen of 20th Century Southern Gothic literature. Her fiction has dashes of dark humor, while managing to shock and jolt readers in the way it addresses religious fervor, hypocrisy, and mid-20th Century Southern culture. Adapting her work isn't exactly easy, but Ethan Hawke, in a director's role, does a commendable job tackling the writer's life and fiction in Wildcat, which stars his daughter, Maya Hawke, as O'Connor and her various fictional characters.

Wildcat is one part biopic and one part literary adaptation. Hawke tackles several key events in O'Connor's career. This includes her time at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and her friendship with her professor, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert "Cal" Lowell, played by Philip Ettinger.

It also addresses her struggles to complete her novel, Wise Blood, and the difficulties female writers faced in the 1950s. This is most apparent when O'Connor is shown in a workshop surrounded by mostly all white men, or at one of Lowell's parties, again surrounded by all white men, who often want to criticize her fiction without really understanding her Southern voice or even how Southerners talk and act. Yes, the usage of racial slurs in some of her stories comes up, which leads to an interesting scene about authenticity in voice and characterization.

Wildcat - Courtesy of Oscilloscope Labs /

Another key plot point is O'Connor's battle with Lupus, which ultimately killed her in 1964 at the age of 39. Yet, prior to that, she wrote and wrote and wrote. Hawke also handles quite deftly the importance of O'Connor's Catholicism as part of the writing process. There's more than one shot of O'Connor praying as part of her artistic routine. Yet, on the other hand, the author also detested religious hypocrites, and Hawke makes that quite known. This adds shots of humor in an otherwise fairly serious film.

Maya Hawke does a heck of a job in the lead role, offering plenty of sardonic zingers and heavy philosophical statements on writing and religion that O'Connor was known for in her fiction, letters, and lectures. Maya Hawke really embraces the role of one of the 20th Century's most influential American authors. Through costume choices, the accent, and the dialogue, the actress really transforms into O'Connor and turns in a remarkable performance, capturing the author's spirit and distinct voice.

For horror fans, there's something to enjoy here in the way Ethan Hawke adapts several of O'Connor's short stories, maintaining the Southern Gothic aesthetic in several sequences, be it scenes where crosses loom large in cemeteries, or gnarled trees that dwarf the characters. I was especially impressed with the takes on "Parker's Back," "Everything That Rises Must Converge," and "Good Country People," especially the way Ethan Hawke shot that story's startling and devastating ending.

It is a little surprising he decided not to adapt "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," but if there's one O'Connor story everyone knows, it's that one. This film gives attention to some of her other hits and lesser-known stories. These adaptations often feel like short films within the boarder narrative about O'Connor's life.

Wildcat has some truly moving moments and a heck of a performance by Maya Hawke. This feature proves she'll have a career well beyond the eventual conclusion of Stranger Things. This film is a beautiful tribute to O'Connor and her unnerving Southern Gothic fiction. Ethan Hawke obviously has a lot of love for the material, while handling the complexities of O'Connor's life and art.

Wildcat will receive a limited theatrical release in Los Angeles and New York beginning on May 3 with a wider release to follow.

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