Archives for posts with tag: greta gerwig

In which Lindsay reveals that her muscles are made of CGI.

Hollywood hates women” is the line going around this week, thanks to Tad Friend’s New Yorker piece (sorry dudes, behind a paywall) about comedienne Anna Faris and the commentary (which I like to call “Internet dust”) it’s kicked up. Though it’s nice to see this conversation taking place in the mainstream media — and Friend’s article is thoughtful and refreshingly plaintive (“Studio executive believe that male moviegoers would rather prep for a colonoscopy than experience a woman’s point of view, particularly if that woman drinks or swears or has a great job or an orgasm.”), it all just prompts me to say, “Well yeah, duh.” Those of us who follow the Women and Hollywood beat know the drill: every year or so, we are treated to one of these State of the Lady in Hollywood exposes, replete with all sorts of quotes and statistics that make us feel totally helpless, and then up from the comments sections spring all sorts of well-intentioned but maddeningly vague rally cries about how we can make it better. “We just need more strong female characters!”, goes one of these refrains. And Hollywood, on the rare occasion that it acknowledges the sound of tiny people shouting, replies with a wave of its hand, “Strong female characters? We’ve got those! Have y’all seen Tomb Raider? And…like…Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life?” Which makes obvious something that we’ve always known: Hollywood has no idea what a strong female character actually looks like.

Blockbuster Hollywood’s idea of a Strong Female Character involves some kind of hybrid between brute, male strength and hyperfeminized sexuality: an Uzi-toting Rosie the Riveter with a 16-inch waist and CGI boobs. In recent years, Hollywood has inundated us with representations of this particular vision of strength, from the aforementioned Tomb Raider (and, for that matter, the entire cult of personality surrounding Angelina Jolie) to Charlie’s Angels to Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle right up to Sucker Punch (the latter of which Sady Doyle terrifically skewered in an Atlantic piece last week).

The problem with this definition of “strength” is that it’s rooted in the patriarchal notion that bigger is better, might is right, and that “weakness,” its opposite, is inherently feminine. For these characters, strength is one’s ability to step in line with a paradigm that is already tainted with misogyny; feminine strength is one’s ability to, in the elegant words of pop phenom Jessie J, “do it like a dude.” (Interestingly enough, this is also the problem that Anna Faris and others experience in the realm of comedy; in Friend’s article, a director praises her for not being “light and sweet…she’s funny like a guy would be funny.”) Once those muscles have been sufficiently flexed, the only “feminine” traits that these Strong Female Characters are allowed to exhibit are those which have been pre-approved by the patriarchy; so, namely, CGI boobs.The Strong Female Character is not one who’s able to provide a personal revision as to what strength is and what it looks like, but one who’s able to successfully navigate the narrow channels in which she’s allowed to be visible in the mainstream Hollywood film.

So if we can’t look to Hollywood for unproblematic views of female strength, can we find them instead in the margins? Not really, says Elizabeth Greenwood, who recently proposed that indie cinema kind of hates women too. In an article entitled “Why So Many Boring Women in Indie Film?” she implicates a number of supposedly more enlightened films for portraying female characters as “meek,” “mild” and “utterly forgettable”  and accuses both male and female filmmakers of “hav[ing] shown little regard for their young female protagonists as people.”

It’s a brave and noble piece, one that articulates something I’ve felt but haven’t quite been able to name — but I only agree with her to a point. First of all, I’ll acknowledge the false dichotomy I’m setting up between “Hollywood films” and “indie films” here; in film as in music, “indie” is no longer synonymous with a  counterculture or a space in which the greater forces of sexism and other forms of oppression are challenged (plus, most of the films she mentions have relatively huge budgets and big names behind them). Greenwood calls out some female characters whose one-dimensional emptiness I find worthy of critique, from the title character in (500) Days of Summer to Michelle Williams’s Cindy in Blue Valentine. But I think she’s too quick to lump a large and varied group of films together — and in some cases her definition of “boring” relies on yet another preexisting paradigm.

“Some of the women Greenwood calls out as boring are deeply sympathetic, brave characters, even if the people around them on-screen don’t always see them for who they are,” Alyssa Rosenberg writes in a response to the original piece. She goes on to defend some of the characters Greenwood initially criticizes. Margot Tenenbaum, for one, she sees as a character who hides her inferiority from those who seek to externally define her. (And of course she’s successful. “What do you know?” her husband is asked right before seeing a dossier recounting the secrets about her love life. “Very little, I’m afraid.”) I’ll extend the defense along to Greta Gerwig’s Florence in Greenberg, a film that Greenwood also faults. Having seen the film twice now, I find Florence’s inarticulateness hugely sympathetic and relatable — even though she’s not a “strong female character” in the sense that she’s ambitious, has a “good job” or could kick your teeth out. Her tangential anecdotes and eccentric sense of humor don’t serve to fetishize her into the film’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but rather convey a disconnect between her and the rest of the people populating her world.  And in contrast with the film’s titular male protagonist, something about her has stuck with me. As my friend Kristen said upon rewatching the film last week, “That movie really should have been called Florence.”

So then, if it’s not the machine gun or the combat boots or a well-articulated interiority, what exactly makes a strong female character? Is it the character’s ability to evade a simple answer to that very question? Maybe. I’m not even sure. But, paradoxically, I have always felt a weird strength in not feeling sure, so maybe there is potential in that: characters who appear before us in the process of working things out. Or maybe, better yet, the word “strong” is too entangled in false, rotted-out visions of masculinity to ever do us any good. To end Hollywood’s hatred of women, I don’t think we don’t need more strong female characters — we need a complete reimagining of what strength is.

James Worsdale is back and, per usual, he’s making lists and taking names. Quite literally.

This week the trailer for Judd Apatow production Bridesmaids, cowritten by SNL’s Kristen Wiig and relative newcomer Annie Mumulo, was unleashed onto the internet and reception to it has been, well, mixed.

The first time I saw the trailer, I really wanted to laugh, but at most got a light chuckle. But, like listening to a Rihanna song, after a couple of times it grew on me. Regardless to whether or not this type of film is indicative of progress, it’s nice to see women in a comedic film about women who are more than just accessories to the male characters. Especially when those roles usually consist of either pulling their hair back and holding their husbands down or just taking off their tops.

Apatow has a bit of a bad rep for being a principal bearer of the aforementioned binary. But he has non-defensively refuted that point and suggested that he has actually given many women in comedy opportunities to showcase their abilities in his films and, I agree with him. I very well might not have known about Leslie Mann or Charlyne Yi among others had it not been for his movies. Jane Lynch’s brilliant role as Steve Carrel’s boss in 40 Year Old Virgin was originally written for a man. We could benefit from Apatow using his influence as an ally to women in comedy doing things women and feminists want to see.

With Bridesmaids featuring Wiig, The Office’s Ellie Kemper, Get Him to the Greek’s Rose Byrne, Reno 911’s Wendi McLendon-Covey, Gilmore Girls’ Melissa McCarthy, and SNL’s Maya Rudolph, what other actresses would we like to see featured in a female focused comedic feature?

Mindy Kaling

When I first heard of this movie I was just waiting for them to announce that the wonderfully witty and shamelessly girly Kelly Kapoor would be joining this cast. Her presence as a writer and actress on The Office, as well as a notorious Twitter feed has solidified this girl as all young feminists’ dream best friend. She needs a moment, and not one where she’s some skinny white A-lister’s best friend.

Greta Gerwig

Featured in Elle magazine’s Favorite 25-Somethings 25 Year Anniversary Issue looking like the epitome of an adorable clown (whatever I mean by that) (well this is what I mean), she is, at the moment, an understated talent. Which is weird because between the appearance in Elle and a gushing review in The New York Times, she seems obviously worthy of more appreciation from the masses! I just hope she’s not relegated to the realms of acquired tastes and indie darlings. Give this girl a break! And, again, not opposite some skinn…oh hell, not opposite Natalie Portman!

Lizzy Caplan

Janice Ian is already a character that is engrained into our generation’s pop cultural consciousness. But it’s one of those roles where you are more familiar with the character than the person playing her (which is indicative of great writing by Fey and great acting by Caplan!). A role on the disappointing short-lived Party Down also showcased her abilities, but the world would be better for her receiving a boost of an opportunity.

Aubrey Plaza

Already having received a push from Apatow in Funny People, you may also recognize her as the Pawnee Parks and Recreation department’s intern with an affected nature April. She also does a really good Sarah Silverman that you’re not sure if it’s tongue-in-cheek or malicious but, honestly, you love it either way, especially because it’s this cute girl making fun of the cute girl with a dirty mouth stock comedy routine. Plaza’s postmodern and playfully dry delivery needs a chance to shine a brighter light.

Merritt Wever

With a small part in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg (alongside Gerwig) and a role on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, Wever is a master of slapstick with a charmingly plucky presence to her whenever she’s featured in something. Also capable of dramatic turns having bit parts in Michael Clayton and Signs, her versatility will hopefully serve her well and we’ll be enjoying her guffaws and snafus for years to come and on larger screens.

Zosia Mamet

The first time I saw Mamet was in her turn as Courtney, sex-crazed, scorned and relentlessly vengeful high school student who lost her v-card to Marshall (gay), on Showtime’s United States of Tara. She played a similar outwardly sexed-up, but ostensibly clueless, type in The Kids Are All Right, but for some reason her desperation is so perfectly satirical that great things could come from this space she’s carved for herself. She also had a recurring role in season four of Mad Men where she played a woman named Joyce Ramsay, but I just finished season three and am waiting until March for the next DVD box set to come out so PLEASE NO PLOT SPOILERS!

Alyson Stoner

Though I understand the gut reaction to recommending a Disney star is to close the page, but I’ve always thought there was something about Stoner that transcended the plucky precocity of her peers. Maybe it’s her having been featured in that Missy Elliot video, but I always thought that there was just something about her that showed a lot of promise. She’s real young though, so there’s time for her yet. Hopefully she doesn’t mess up whatever it is she’s got going for her by completely sexing up her image in a pursuit to become the next Jennifer Aniston like SOME people.

This is admittedly just a sampling of women I’d love to see given the opportunity to lead in comedies that men so repeatedly are given the chance to. Who did I miss? Who are your favorite funny girl up and comers that you’d love to see gain a boost from Apatow, Fey, Barrymore, or any other comedy king pins who seem to have shown an interest in giving women what they really want to see?