When The 355 was first announced, it sounded thrilling. The premise alone—Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, Fan Bingbing, and Oscar-winners Lupita Nyong’o and Penélope Cruz teaming up to play globetrotting super spies—was enough to cause a hubbub at Cannes in 2018. Sadly, the actual film that resulted from that splashy announcement is a little less than exciting.
The film, directed by Simon Kinberg and in theaters now, doesn’t make effective enough use of its star power. Which is why we’ve decided to pitch five other movies that these stars could do together—ones that would hopefully fare a bit better than The 355.
The Lincoln Center Assassination
When Juilliard acting professor Alice (Jessica Chastain) is passed over for a deanship in favor of her imperious colleague, Marta (Diane Kruger), Alice decides there’s only one response: murder. She cooks up a plan to off Marta with fellow professors Gloria (Lupita Nyong’o) and Sophie (Fan Bingbing), who have their own resentments, professional and personal, toward the snooty Austrian. Meanwhile, visiting professor Valeria (Penélope Cruz) is directing students in an all-female production of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon while suffering what just might be a nervous breakdown. Not sure if she’s losing her mind or if she actually has uncovered a murder plot, Valeria sets about ingratiating herself to her colleagues to sniff out what might be going down. Tony-winning director Anna D. Shapiro’s film debut—with a script by Search Party co-creator Sarah-Violet Bliss—is full of bloody hijinks and probably too many theater jokes than should be allowed in one film.
Three Gorges, Five Women
Chinese legend Jia Zhangke returns to the Yangtze River of his last feature, Ash Is Purest White, to tell the story of a forlorn functionary for the commerce ministry (Fan Bingbing), whose boss tasks her with guiding a group of women, all potential foreign investors, around Hubei. She must talk up the economic opportunities in the province, while letting its natural beauty speak for itself. The women in her care—an American philanthropist (Jessica Chastain) recently divorced from her zillionaire tycoon husband; a Kenyan real estate developer (Lupita Nyong’o); a Spanish fast-fashion company owner (Penélope Cruz); and a German auto industry executive (Diane Kruger)—have brought their own emotional baggage on the trip. As Jia’s delicate film unfolds, the women’s vast differences and intimate similarities are teased out and explored, while a slight mystery about all of their intentions for the trip hangs in the air. A look at the peculiar nuances of globalization, Three Gorges, Five Women is, among other things, a shoo-in for the Palme d’Or.
The World Over
In this sprawling WW II-era drama, Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Fan Bingbing, Penélope Cruz, and Diane Kruger play women tossed into the chaos of war and trying to find a way through. Near Gibraltar, an agent for the German Abwehr (Kruger) who is secretly working for the Allies enlists the aid of an anti-Franco operative (Cruz) to thwart Axis incursion into Spain. In Morocco, a Red Cross worker (Nyong’o) races to protect an expat writer (Chastain) who’s been targeted by the Nazis as a subversive. In the mountains of Shaanxi, a housewife (Fan) struggles to hold her community together while occupying forces loom. As these stories overlap and interconnect, director James Gray takes the audience on a tour of a world nearly torn asunder, but held together, in some small places, by these perhaps almost cosmically linked five women. Awash in gorgeous visuals, a lush score, and big, Old Hollywood performances, The World Over is a throwback epic with a flinty, modern sensibility.
In this wistful dramedy, Rafiki director Wanuri Kahiu stages the reunion of five former classmates from a tony international school in Nairobi. At a luxe beach resort near Mombasa, the friends tell old jokes, remember lost loves, and settle a few scores. Rose (Lupita Nyong’o) has become a successful music producer who spends most of her time in London, feeling guilty about leaving her home country, but also resentful that she, as a Kenyan, was the one friend meant to stay in Nairobi while the others flitted off across the world. Feng (Fan Bingbing) has become jaded with her flashy life in Singapore, and comes on the trip harboring a secret about Rose’s high school boyfriend. Nan (Jessica Chastain) has turned into a Trump-y South Florida socialite, and foolishly thinks the other women will have nothing to say about who she’s aligned herself with. Greta (Diane Kruger) has been teaching history at a boarding school in Switzerland and feels embarrassed by her humble life in the mountains. And, unbeknownst to the others, Barcelona restaurateur Lena (Penélope Cruz) has left her wife and her business with no plans to return to either. These five old friends talk and swim and drink as the realities of their lives come spilling out, culminating in a New Year’s Eve celebration full of fireworks, literal and figurative.
When movie star Alan Mariner, best known for playing suave secret agent Sean Stone in a massively successful film franchise, dies suddenly, he is mourned the world over. Except by five of the women who played “Stone Girls,” the bikini-clad babes bedded and then forgotten by the spy in each of his films. Mariner was a creep and a lech, so none of his former co-stars are terribly sad to see him go. Not Kruger’s Nina (aka Heidi Mountains), not Bingbing’s Li (aka Mei East), nor Chastain’s Jules (aka Texas Holdum), Nyongo’s Paola (aka Xanadu St. Cain), or Cruz’s Isobel (aka Carmen Besos). It’s quite a shock, then, when they’re told they’ve all been named in Mariner’s will, and that it can only be read to them on the small Caribbean island where the author of the Sean Stone book series made his home. All is not as it seems, though, and soon the Stone Girls find themselves swept up in a madcap adventure full of espionage and steamy romance. Featuring a cameo by a heavily aged-up Hugh Jackman as Mariner, Lorene Scafaria’s film is a merry romp about the women behind the man with the gun.
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