Charming the Hearts of Men is writer-director S. E. DeRose’s debut film. Released in 2021, this film follows two women dealing with patriarchy in the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement in 60s America, which leads to the passing of historic legislation in favor of equal rights.
Let’s dive into this film and see how effectively it manages to do what it promises.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
Plot Summary – A Charming Story
The film begins with Grace returning to her home in the South for her father’s funeral. At the funeral, we see many settings being established – gender discrimination, civil rights, etc. Despite her grieving, we know how the guests gossip behind her back about her two divorces. One of the crucial guests introduced is ‘Congressman’ (yup, that’s what’s listed on IMDb as well), who is a critical figure in the film’s Civil Rights plot.
With time, it is made clear that her father’s estate is deep in debt. Given the period, Grace’s only options are 1) to sell her father’s estate, which would mean kicking the livelihood of all their servants (black servants who’ve served for generations) or 2) marry a rich man because only men can get loans from the bank. The frustrating disparity is made evident in a strikingly effective manner, further enhanced by the actors’ performances.
Being a realist, Grace chooses the latter and begins her search for a suitable match. This is where our b-story begins, following one of her black servants, Jubilee. The b-story takes us into the world of these black men and women living in the times of the Jim Crow laws. Jubilee is a young idealist who wants to be an independent woman, much like Grace’s youth. Jubilee’s story intertwines with Walter, the Congressman’s driver, who feels skeptical about the changes his Congressman is fighting for.
What follows is the story of two women living in a man’s world looking for dignity and equal rights, leading to the passing of the historic bill.
‘Charming the Hearts of Men’ Ending Explained
Did Women Get Their Rights in the End? The short answer is yes! I mean, it’s part of history. But here is how the film shows it –
After a series of failed attempts, Grace gets a job as a hostess (for an exploitatively low salary) in a restaurant. On her first day, she allows black men to sit inside, which results in a bunch of rednecks storming the restaurant; even the owner and some of the waitresses are uneasy with the presence of the black men. A fight ensues, and she’s fired from her job. This triggers her to speak to Congressman, whom she’s been charming all this time in hopes of settling her debt. However, instead of asking for help with her estate, she asks him to include women in the Civil Rights bill that he’s been fighting for.
After a mild argument, he agrees. And that’s it. The Congressman proceeds to convince his colleagues. After a considerable debate in Congress (which we barely get a glimpse of), the bill is passed. In the end, Grace is seen hosting a dinner for Congressman at the bar where we only saw black patrons throughout the film. At the dinner, all men and women, blacks and whites, sit together as equals.
I should mention that Grace takes help from a friend she makes along the way – Ruth, a prostitute who has saved up enough money – and sets up her own farming business. This central conflict which is the inciting incident of the film is resolved with extreme convenience. Presumably, the Congressman also helped her out with her estate. Maybe they’re going to get married, but that doesn’t matter and isn’t outright addressed.
Now, this is my problem with the film. The film focused too much on the issues and only brought up the flare to fight in the last 15 odd minutes of the film. Given that a verbal debate that lasted a few minutes barely just magically solved 90 minutes of injustice within 15 minutes felt too rushed and didn’t make for a satisfying ending. Had Grace pulled up her socks and begun fighting for women’s rights earlier in the film, or even started to portray those sentiments from the beginning, the ending would’ve felt like a victory after struggles.
However, it feels like 90 minutes of oppression, followed by a very surface-level debate that is won without any struggle. Then 15 minutes later, you have a happy ending. The film starts promising but revels in the injustice so much that it forgets to fight against it, resulting in an unearned end.
Charming the Hearts of Men is a friendly, charming movie. Sadly, it is also a forgettable one. Should you watch this one? That depends on what you like.
The characters are fascinating, and the filmmaker does show a lot of promise. The film is genuinely a captivating experience. It’s just that you probably won’t remember this film for too long after the final Fade-to-black.
Charming the Hearts of Men is a 2021 Historical Drama Film that marks the debut of writer-director S.E. DeRose.