Poison Ivy/Pamela Isley is one of my favorite characters in comics–in Batman, or otherwise. The new short film “Pamela & Ivy” takes a very grounded approach to exploring the dual personas of a rich female character in both childhood and adulthood. Clearly made with dedication, creativity, and passion, this project is female led. Writer, director, and adult Ivy/Pamela actress Leah McKendrick and producer Mariah Owen (who also appears as a diner waitress)–both of the creative team on the breakout revenge thriller MFA–have brought something really special and remarkable here. Like the namesakes of the title, the short is smart, beautiful, powerful, and bold. The persona of Ivy radiates strength and is an empowered survivor. She also takes on elements of the vigilante role (a la Catwoman in the solo comics series).
Eric Roberts (who recently had a standout role as a slick attorney in CBS All Access’s Interrogation) effectively plays the cruel, cold, and mysterious captor “The Man.” Imprisoned by him in a barren room, young Pamela (the evocative, emotive, and expressive Aria Lyric Leabu) finds solace nurturing and talking to a plant sprouting from a crack in the floor. Unlike her kidnapper, the plant does not judge and has no ill will/intent.
Roberts’ Man could also be seen as emblematic of the patriarchy’s problems and forced conforming to stifling gender roles, with pronouncements like “Good girls don’t…get…dirty” and “Good girls do as they’re told.” Pamela manifests her alter ego Ivy as a survival mechanism and manages to overpower her oppressor and abuser.
Creative force McKendrick is memorable as both the adult counterparts of shy scientist Pamela and the emboldened Ivy. She embraces the physicality of both sides/personas and creates distinct and convincing contrasts as she inhabits each. Adult Ivy is a charismatic, clever, and commanding presence.
After dispatching a robber, Adult Ivy later appears to inspire a young girl at the scene, much like McKendrick, Owen, and countless other readers have been so inspired by the character.
Poison Ivy is a favorite of cosplayers and at Halloween. Here, Ivy’s suit has been reimagined by designer Howie B (a frequent Lizzo collaborator) as a functional, sleek, stylish bodysuit that is less overtly sensualized than many previous incarnations. Her trademark tendrils do make an appearance courtesy of some skillful CGI. She is also given a badass lime green Dodge Challenger.
The short works wonderfully well as a self-contained origin story, but it also serves as an incredibly compelling possible pilot episode for a web series. There is a richness in potential which makes me want to see this incarnation and her journey continue. Ideally, this would find a natural home and fit on DC Universe, the DC streaming service (which features companion pieces like the animated Harley Quinn and the ambitious Swamp Thing).
With authenticity and truthfulness, this film is also a calling card on multiple levels (writing, acting, producing) and demonstrates McKendrick should be given feature directing opportunities.
The 16 minute short may be viewed here.
–Cory Graham Twitter: @coryfilm