'Free the Nipple': Film Review

Free the Nipple Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Sundance Selects

Free the Nipple Still - H 2014

A film to see with your shirt off

Lina Esco's debut feature is a fictional account of the movement to legalize female toplessness across the nation

One hopes that the weather was warm during the filming of Lina Esco's fictionalized account of the feminist movement to legalize female toplessness in the 37 states across the country in which it is currently banned. Featuring endless scenes of multitudes of women baring their breasts in public in various areas of New York City, Free the Nipple is an unfortunately tone-deaf and poorly executed drama that doesn't exactly help its cause championed by the celebrity likes of Miley Cyrus and Lena Dunham.

Making her feature film directorial debut, Esco also plays the central role of With (yes, that's her name), a writer who early in the proceedings is fired from her journalism job by her obviously sexist male boss. She soon joins forces with Liv (Lola Kirke), a freewheeling activist who's devoted herself to the titular, pardon the pun, cause.

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Aided by a journalist (Zach Grenier) with extensive connections and an aggressive lawyer — both men, ironically — the two organize a series of mass demonstrations in which groups of women go topless in New York City, which legalized the practice in 1992 even though it's still frowned upon by the cops. Losing a bet with her new partner, Esco also joyously runs bare-breasted in Times Square, only to result in Liv being arrested for such offenses as disturbing the peace and assaulting a policeman.

Dubbing themselves the "Girlrillaz," in a possible nod to the real-life feminist activist group the Guerrilla Girls, the protesting women blanket the city, tagging landmarks with the film's slogan. It all culminates with footage of similar demonstrations by topless women conducted around the world, including such locations as Vatican City.

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But while its message is certainly laudable, Free the Nipple is a narrative mess featuring poorly defined characters, dialogue that consists of little more than sound-bite-ready social platitudes, and dramatic scenes lacking narrative momentum and coherence. Even stranger, the early scenes featuring bevies of topless women have their breasts pixilated, which somehow seems to go against the grain of the film's message. Presumably it's meant to accentuate the dramatic impact of the nudity that's depicted later on, but all it succeeds in doing is highlighting the artificiality of the proceedings.

Production: Disruptive Films
Cast: Lina Esco, Lola Kirke, Casey LaBow, Monique Coleman, Zach Grenier
Director: Lina Esco
Screenwriter: Hunter Richards
Producers: Lina Esco, Hunter Richards, Lisa Azuelos, Julien Madon
Executive producer: Lisa Momberger
Director of photography: Berenice Eveno
Production designer: Callie Andreadis
Editor: Matt Landon
Costume designer: Christian Stroble
Composers: Henry Hey, Nick Littlemore, Peter Mayes
Casting: Jennifer Euston

No rating, 84 min.