Radium Girls


Radium Girls is an America drama film based in the 1920s America and based on actual events. The movie follows two sisters Bessie and Jo Cavallo, two sisters that work at American Radium, painting watch dials. After Jo gets sick with radium poisoning at work, they and several other workers sue American Radium and take on the corporation for knowingly poisoning them and trying to cover it up.

Full thoughts and Review of Radium Girls

Radium Girls felt like it had the potential to be great. I did find the concept interesting when I read about the plot. This drama was pushed back due to Covid-19 and released on Netflix and in limited release. I watched this and let down by the movie. It was ok, but I couldn’t like the film.

The setting of the 1920s can be an exciting time to show in American history. The “Roaring Twenties” or “Jazz Age” following the boom America saw after World War I and entered an era of social, artistic, and cultural dynamism. The film did establish the times of the 1920s but didn’t tell it in the main story. Radium Girls instead showed this in stock footage, and actors imposed in the film with their events. There was an overuse of the stock footage that looked to pad out the movie.  

The acting was fair. Joey King plays Bessie Cavallo, the sister who helps her sister Jo Cavallo played by Abby Quinn, and takes American Radium to Court. The two had some good chemistry and a believable relationship. The rest of the characters felt like they had a better side story, but we didn’t get to hear it. We see Walt, Bessie’s love interest, and photographer brings Bessie into subversive thinking and counter culture. Another character introduced was Etta, a black woman photographer and part of the counter culture movement. That’s all for them that I’m aware of, besides potential communisms ideas that they had. That was interesting to me, but it doesn’t tie into the main story in any way. Had that been explored more, I could have liked the movie more. But these were scenes that didn’t have to happen to show Jo’s movement and the lawsuit against American Radium.

Paula (Left), Doris (middle), and Bessie (right). While leaving the courtroom. These side characters had good conflict and story, but are forgettable at the same time in the movie.

I hoped for a better story, but the plot is alright, and nothing gripped me while watching the movie. You should know where this film is going if you saw enough “based on a true stories/events” movies. This movie is short at about one hour and forty-five minutes. I usually say that movies run too long, but this film felt short and probably could have used more time or a subplot. It isn’t evident because the film felt padded out with stock footage, as I mentioned before. Why didn’t the direction have a better side story rather than put in the stock footage? I get the stock footage credit for it showing the lesser-seen side of the 1920s. I do not fully understand it, but I guess it shows how we forget or are aware of one side of the time and history but look away at the darker times of another side. That is at least my interpretation of that.

We get some good conflict, and it can make sense, but it isn’t gripping. The motives for all sides make sense but don’t amount too much from them. The dangers that the girls face are logical aren’t even much of a threat. Even the court and trial didn’t feel that to Jo and Bessie, even when they had trouble getting representation to fight for them. I couldn’t root for Jo and Bessie because everything points to them winning, even if the story is trying to tell us otherwise.

Radium Girls did have some good costume design. Shots like this while taking a company photo making the film feel authentic to it’s time period.

I felt Radium Girls should be a solid movie. You had many themes of the 1920s and even a chance to show a snuggle of a women’s movement in a time when women got the right to vote several years before. The film did a good job showing the girls’ impact that painted and used radium, but it’s the struggle that it’s quickly demonstrated and doesn’t settle into the viewer. That would be a better struggle tale, along with Jo’s radium poising. Even more, culture as we only get glimpses of 1920’s life. The film didn’t amount to much other than an uninspired tale and focused on a bare-bones main plot.

Summarized thoughts and review of Radium Girls

Nothing stands out in this movie to me. The plot and acting are fair. The side stories seemed to have the potential to lift this film to be more memorable, but nothing came of them. It’s predictable and short and doesn’t leave the impact you should get from watching about corporation cover-ups and the lower class going to take on a corporation. Even in the setting of a vibrant 1920s, the movie was dull. Radium Girls is a letdown but fair film.


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