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How ‘Bitch’ Filmmaker and Star Marianna Palka Turned Personal Upheaval Into the Best Year of Her Life

Nearly four years after the emotional events of a documentary that went inside Palka's own life, the filmmaker and actress is more productive — and proud — than ever before.

Marianna Palka - director of "Bitch"

Daniel Bergeron

Palka’s quest for new material eventually led her back to an old story she hadn’t been able to shake, the tale about a Scottish woman treated by noted psychiatrist R.D. Laing who, as she recalls “had empty nest syndrome, her kid left the house and she started to act like a dog because she didn’t feel like she had a life.”

Palka retreated to Lake Tahoe to hash out the script for what would become “Bitch,” which she wrote in two days. She moved the action to contemporary America and aged down the kids, adding a twist on the dynamic that first inspired her.

“I write very fast, because I have all this other shit going on,” Palka said. “I don’t want to be staying at the computer. When I relate to a project, I never relate to it in a way that isn’t excited or thrilled that it’s coming to me from the ether.”

She always knows what roles she’s going to play in her features, and she penned the lead role of Jill – a seemingly average housewife who suddenly snaps and begins to behave like a dog, much to the chagrin of her family – for herself.

“I feel like there’s skin in the game if I do it that way,” she said of taking on roles in her own films. “I’m not just asking people to go there, the actors feel like they’re taking risks and I’m taking risks. We’re all in it together.”

Her long-time friend and frequent co-star Ritter stars as Jill’s husband, a man who is woefully unprepared for taking over household duties while his wife barks it up in the basement, and whose own behavior is responsible for pushing her to such crazy ends. To him, it’s pure Palka.

“Over the years she has continued to gravitate towards stories that grab her interest and don’t let go, and I think as she’s grown, she’s gotten even more confident in her voice and her ability to communicate certain human truths through the most bizarre circumstances,” Ritter said.


The film divided audiences at Sundance, but Palka made a compelling case for tying its uneasy subject matter into a certain topical element. “It’s not just a feminist film,” she said.”If you voted for Trump, you’re going to cry when you watch this film. It’s about you.” (It doesn’t take much to recognize that Ritter’s character is the kind of person who likely voted Republican in the last election.)

In between filming “Bitch” and debuting it at Sundance, she also found time for another life-changing experience: starring on the ’80s-set hit series “GLOW” as wrestler Reggie Walsh.

Fresh with the confidence of completing her latest movie, she entered the audition process with a newfound swagger. “I walked into that room, knowing it was my show, that I deserved it, that I had a right to be there,” she said. With the show and the Sundance premiere behind her, she went right back to work on another project.

Over the summer, Palka and her crew set up shop in Main St. in New Rochelle, a Westchester County town less than an hour from New York City. From the outside, The New Rochelle Trust Company looked like just that – a big bank – but its interior has been retrofitted into a soundstage. For her fifth feature, “Egg,” penned by Risa Mickenberg and starring Christina Hendricks, Alysia Reiner, and Anna Camp, the space was turned into Reiner’s character’s apartment.

The film follows a pair of long-time friends, played by Hendricks and Reiner, as they navigate the complicated world of fertility. On the day IndieWire visited the set last summer, the pair were filming a scene in which their different takes on the matter, plus some very real friendship chemistry, was on full display. “It’s bigger all-around, basically,” Palka said. “I can use a bunch of tools that I’ve never been able to use. It’s a next level.” Palka is happy to keep pushing forward, and has every intention of making films on the studio level, too.



Erica Parise/Netflix

“Egg” is also the first film of hers she’s not performing in, but it doesn’t make it any less a Palka picture. A lot of that comes from her on-set attitude and her disinterest in perpetuating a hieracheral system on set. About 85% of the crew on “Egg” was female, along with every single department head. Plus, Palka’s optimism and kindness is just infectious.

When “The Lion’s Mouth Opens” was short-listed for an Oscar, Palka attended a number of awards-facing events to chat about the film and her own experience. At one event, she happened to fall into conversation with Quincy Jones. Palka asked the legendary singer for advice on how to move forward with her own career.

“He said, he spent his whole entire life not just playing for his crowd, but he was playing for the whole world, he was playing for people who didn’t understand him or people who would ostracize him,” she remembered. “Then he said there’s something beautiful that happens to an artist when they start to play just to their crowd, when you just play for people, then what you work becomes is something even more beautiful.”

Three years later, Palka feels like she’s in tune with that advice. “It feels to me like that’s what I’m doing with ‘Bitch’ and that’s what I’m doing with ‘GLOW,’ I’m playing my music to my crowd,” Palka said. “Whoever already gets me, that’s who I’m talking to, and those people are even more moved by what I’m doing next.”

“Bitch” is in select theaters and on VOD and iTunes now.

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