When author Chris Kraus’s memoir/auto-fiction I Love Dick was first published 20 years ago, it went mostly unnoticed. Over the last decade, the book has earned a reputation as a feminist cult classic, and now has its very own TV show
Created by Transparent’s Jill Soloway, I Love Dick tells the story of Chris (Kathryne Hahn), an indie filmmaker who accompanies her historian husband Sylvere (Griffin Dunne) to Marfa in Texas where he is a fellow at an Art Institute, run by the titular Dick (Kevin Bacon), a successful and influential culture figure. When Chris’s movie is disqualified from a film festival, she stays back in Marfa and becomes obsessed with Dick Jarrett, a horse-riding, modern Marlboro man. Sylvere and Chris invite him over for dinner, where he flaunts his male privilege and extreme chauvinism, questioning whether Chris’s film was any good in the first place. Right in the first episode, the show sets the context for what usually happens – a woman is looked at but is not a part of the narrative. This is where I Love Dick is different. The Amazon Original series is available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.
What follows is a series of wild letters to Dick, helping Chris pronounce and come to terms with her desire and identity as a woman and an artist. These letters give her and Sylvere a secret obsession that helps them rediscover each other sexually.
Once Chris drives into the wide, empty, and categorically masculine Marfa, bringing her female energy into the town known for horse ranches and oil rigs, she sets off multiple narratives.
We meet Devon (Roberta Collindrez, the breakout star of the series) who works at the institute and steals Chris’s letters to Dick as inspiration for a play she is writing. A Mexican-American whose family always lived on Dick’s land, Devon grew up wanting to be like Dick. Paula (Lily Mojekwu), the museum curator, is constantly frustrated by Dick’s refusal to exhibit work by female artists. Toby (India Menuez), another fellow at the institute, is a conceptual artist working on a project about hardcore pornography who wants to surpass Dick as an artist.
The most innovative episode of the series, A Short History of Weird Girls, gives these women the opportunity to tell their individual stories, all talking about how they fell into the orbit of this man who represents the malecentric, unrelenting and discriminating art world.
These women aren’t being seen through the eyes of a man. They define how the story goes for them. Though she may be bumbling, falling or making a fool of herself, Chris is in control of her story. Kathryne Hahn perfectly embodies Chris’s frenetic energy, and physical clumsiness. Though she is nervous, confused, angry or scared, the show is never apologetic for turning on the female gaze.
As Dick, Kevin Bacon is objectified, like women have been objectified for as long as the movie business has existed. Soloway is running a female lens through what is usually a decidedly male perspective. The show’s title is talking about a woman’s obsession with him, but the series isn’t about him. It is about her.
Jill Soloway ended her 2016 Primetime Emmy acceptance speech with three crucial words: “Topple the patriarchy.” With I Love Dick’s sardonic comedy, Jill Soloway makes another, mostly successful attempt to do so.