Stray Dolls

For those who enjoy movies like Heaven Knows What (2014), American Honey (2016), and White Girl (2016), which wallow nihilistically in America’s unwiped asshole, Stray Dolls is a decent entry in the growing genre. The story centers on Riz (Geetanjali Thapa), an illegal immigrant who gets a job as a maid at the super-seedy Tides Plaza Motel. Riz, who worked with a gang of thieves in India, is attempting to start her life anew but gets drawn back into a life of crime by her lowlife roommate Dallas (Olivia DeJonge). Dallas wants to open a nail salon someday, but meanwhile spends her time doing drugs and getting screwed on bathroom sinks. Her boyfriend Jimmy (Robert Aramayo), a creep with a neck tattoo of a snake, is the Tides Plaza manager’s son and a smalltime hustler, and when Riz steals a brick of cocaine from one of the motel rooms, they think they might be able to make enough money to get out and break the cycle of humdrum degradation. Unfortunately for the two antiheroines, things get complicated and they end up having to murder a couple of people before the movie is over. Those who enjoyed the three films mentioned at the top of this review will probably appreciate Stray Dolls, as well, but it breaks no real new ground in the field of cinematic slumming.

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Stray Dolls is:

Pro-miscegenation. Jimmy cheats on Dallas with a black chick named Peaches (Yvette Williams).

Pro-gay. Riz and Dallas have a sort of half-hearted sexual attraction to each other, and participate in a three-way encounter with Jimmy.

Drug-ambivalent. The argument could be made that Stray Dolls is anti-drug in that nearly everyone whose life intersects with the business is ruined: a dealer is murdered, Riz and Dallas are drawn deeper into dangerous criminal activity, and an addict mother’s children are left unsupervised. Riz, too, is vulnerable to sexual assault after Dallas drugs her. The anti-dope message of the film almost seems accidental, however, and Riz and Dallas experience no immediate repercussions after bonding over some coke they snort together.

Misandrist. All men in the movie are sleazy and ill-intentioned, and Jimmy in particular turns out to be a rat. The others are violent and/or sexually predatory.

Immigration-ambivalent. Stray Dolls attempts a sympathetic portrait of a new arrival in the character of Riz, but fumbles it in that she and the other foreigners depicted in the film are hardly credits to an open-borders agenda. One of her fellow Indians, Sal (Samrat Chakrabarti), uses the motel to move cocaine by arrangement with the manager, Una (Cynthia Nixon), who seems to be from Poland. Una shreds Riz’s Indian passport after she hires her, knowingly employing an illegal immigrant, and is a generally unsympathetic character, though she does appear to want a different and better sort of life for her son, whose lifestyle she disapproves. “You work hard, you make it here. You believe that?” Una asks Riz when she hires her. Riz claims to believe it, and whether or not the “American Dream” remains viable is at stake throughout Stray Dolls. Notwithstanding the less than wholly flattering depiction of aliens, there is an undeniable anti-American content to the film. Juxtaposed with Riz’s initial meekness and politeness, Dallas represents Americans poorly by rudely using the bathroom with the door open right after meeting her. “Are you, like, Mexican or somethin’?” she asks, indicating possible nativist residue or, at the least, a stereotypical redneck lack of culture. “You’re gonna give yourself a heart attack,” one of Riz’s coworkers tells her, seeing her busily at work in the motel laundry room, thus perpetuating the meme of lazy, entitled Americans and hardworking immigrants. In one scene, Donald Trump’s inauguration speech appears on a television screen as Riz is cleaning, but the moment carries not so much an emphatic anti-Trump impact as a seemingly numbed indifference. Trump’s ineffectual pontifications are simply irrelevant to the situation on the ground in America, but the election of Trump may be added to the mix as a contributor to Riz’s anxiety about being caught by the authorities.

Irreligious. Una displays a picture of Pope John Paul II in her office, but represents Catholics rather badly. The John Paul portrait even seems to smirk knowingly as Una destroys Riz’s passport. “Jesus fuck,” her son cries repeatedly after being shot, saying little for the quality of his Christian upbringing.

Relativistic. “We’re all just a buncha sinners doin’ the best we can,” claims Dallas, and it says quite a bit about the film’s worldview that it features not one major character who isn’t a criminal.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.