It's about time we see Latinas on screen playing more complex and dynamic roles. Cuban actress Ana de Armas's role as Melinda in "Deep Water" certainly fits that description, although her character has me thinking maybe I should be a little more careful what I wish for. In Hulu's latest thriller, she's unhappily married to Vin, played by Ben Affleck. They may have a precious young daughter, a big beautiful house, and the fortune to go with it, but Melinda and Vin exist in a psychological thriller, and things are not good — especially when Adrian Lyne is the director. Lyne is the guy who made "Fatal Attraction" and "Indecent Proposal," and he came out of a 20-year retirement to direct this film, which is all to say, despite having all the trappings of a beautiful life, Melinda and Vin are deeply disturbed.
My uneasy feelings surrounding the film started with worry about De Armas's character. We first see her being a "bad mom" — yelling at her daughter to stop playing "Old MacDonald." Her daughter does not listen. In contrast, Vin is there as the good, patient parent. He relates to his daughter as he plays, listens, and engages with her on a deeper level than Melinda. Now, if the genders were reversed, the impression wouldn't be that Melinda was a bad parent. But the parenting double standard exists, and here it's wielded against Melinda, setting up the audience to dislike her.
It doesn't help that she cheats on her husband, throwing her infidelity in his face. Their whole friend group knows. (How could they not, when she's making out with randoms at their parties) And she seems to not have any interests other than hooking up with young men who are not her husband. Melinda is portrayed as the typical hypersexual Latina, and just in case you might miss that she is Latinidad (perhaps thanks to De Armas's light skin or her character's privileged position), her thick accent makes sure to give it away.
But that's just the beginning. As "Deep Water" unfolds, everything, including Melinda, gets more complicated. It starts when Vin boasts to one of Melinda's young lovers that he murdered her previous paramour — the man is missing, after all. The rumor spreads quickly through their small community, and while, generally, folks agree that Vin is joking, the film doesn't give a definitive answer to what happened.
"Deep Water" shifts between current events and flashbacks (or fantasies), and it's unclear whose perspective we're seeing, so the questions just mount. In a clever bit of filmmaking, I wasn't sure how far Melinda takes her cheating and how far Vin takes his violent impulses until it started happening outside of flashbacks and fantasies. Along the way, I teetered between Melinda and Vin, seeing them as both victim and villain, unsure who to root for or even how to understand their particular game of cat and mouse. I mean, who is the cat here? Who's the mouse? I'm still not sure I know.
And in that gray space, "Deep Water" excels. As the movie closes, Melinda's choices, and what the film leaves undecided, are complex and dynamic. I enjoy seeing Latinas playing more complex characters in film, and even though the choices Melinda makes aren't the choices I would make, they do pose fascinating questions. What is the role of jealousy in love? How are we complicit in our partners' actions? What responsibility do we take for our kinks, particularly when they hurt others? Is all really fair in love and war?
"Deep Water" lives in moral ambiguity, asking us to look closely at Vin and Melinda in a sort of Rorschach-test way that may reveal something unsightly about ourselves. So while I find Melinda deeply troubling, I'm glad De Armas is playing her, and as an explicitly Latina character at that. Latinas experience the full breadth and depth of the human experience; we range in temperament, inclination, and even morality as much as any other group. And it's good to have films that portray that, even, or perhaps especially, when they make viewers like me uncomfortable.