MaXXXine REVIEW – Takes It Too Much to the MaXXX


MaXXXine opens with a home movie from 1959 of young Maxine (Charley Rowan McCain) speaking with her preacher father, repeating his mantra “I will not accept a life I do not deserve.” Like much of MaXXXine, it’s something that piques interest in its potential meanings and thematic weight, especially in the context of its sibling films X and Pearl, but fails to cohere as anything but a plot point by the film’s end.

MaXXXine’s tripartite story follows Maxine (Mia Goth as an adult) as she’s hunted by a private detective working for a mysterious someone from her past, a pair of homicide detectives investigating a string of deaths of Maxine’s friends the mysterious someone is likely responsible for, and the production of Maxine’s first non-porn film, the horror sequel “The Puritan II.” All this plays out in 1985 Los Angeles where updates about the most recent Night Stalker killing abound, video is quickly overtaking film, and horror movies and metal music are all the rage. A rage ironically fed by the Satanic Panic about these entertainments and governments’ poor attempts at censorship.

Each of the narrative threads offers its own joys. The performances from Kevin Bacon as the PI, Michelle Monaghan as one of the detectives, and Elizabeth Debicki as The Puritan II’s director all do the perfect supporting actor job of popping without ever upstaging Goth. The few instances of gore in the film are beautifully realized, particularly a surprisingly graphic image of testicles Maxine has stomped with a high heel. The neon-lit video rental store Maxine lives above, the backlots of the studio, and iconic Hollywood locations all look great and carry history. Sadly, it seems that history may be the only thing MaXXXine really cares about.

Bacon and Monaghan feel like stunt casting, Bacon for Friday the 13th, Monaghan for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a quintessential LA neo-noir about the movie industry. The backlots invite viewers to think about artifice, but MaXXXine’s backlot set piece just feels like an excuse to include the Bates Motel from Psycho. A mention of Elizabeth Short/the Black Dahlia works as a reference to De Palma’s film about the historic case, MaXXXine’s own inclusion of the Night Stalker, and more, yet fails to resonate as anything more than its multi-references.

Which is also what happens with two of the three storylines. Both the investigative plotline centered on Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale as her former actor partner, and the production of The Puritan II are underdeveloped. Instead of meaningfully combining with the larger story about Maxine’s past catching up with her, these narratives are abandoned by the end, having served their purposes as historic/generic/influence markers.

Only the plot about Maxine’s past haunting her delivers. It’s not exactly original as it sticks close to the beats of classic slashers that open with a flashback; think Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Sleepaway Camp, etc. But it satisfyingly comes together despite failing to commit to the genre by only showing one of the multiple slashings (we just see the aftermaths of the others).

MaXXXine is an enjoyable watch. The performances are overwhelmingly fantastic; Giancarlo Esposito is another highlight as Maxine’s agent Teddy, while singer Moses Sumney as her friend Leon makes a case for him remaining just a singer. The different generic modes are all shot nicely and convincingly.

The film’s greatest fault is not that it’s too committed to marking out its influences, but rather that it doesn’t commit to these pastiches more fully by foregoing attempts at big ideas in favor of more thorough recreation. As it stands, MaXXXine feels like a jumble of signposts to film history and broad themes of fame instead of a complete film; a gaseous cloud of potential that never becomes a star.

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MaXXXine tries to do too much and ends up doing too little, narratively and thematically, but its great performances make it worth seeking out.