A few months ago, our very own Amy Roberts wrote about the severe lack of relatable female characters on TV and in movies. We’re all sick of seeing an all too perfect specimen of womanhood decrying the fact she can’t find, let alone hold down, a man, whilst flaunting the most painfully awesome looking set of legs but, like, tripping over once or twice to show that she’s truly an everywoman we can all relate to. I’m sorry, but if Reese Witherspoon in any film, especially This Means War, is a complete klutz that can’t get a date, then what the fuck hope is there for the rest of us? Her character is a god damn scientist or some shit too, that lady is on fire. How am I meant to connect to that apart from in my most private fantasies?
Obviously, Lena Dunham is killing it as the totally awful slash downright incredible Hannah Horvath. Even the self-confessed perfect characters in Girls are total disaster areas of epic proportions, and I couldn’t love that more. And Greta Gerwig too, is directionless and lazy and a bit of an embarrassing mess for most of Frances Ha – finally something that represents the less than perfect amongst us, who are every bit their delicious male counterparts: screw ups and sexy as fuck for it. If I have to watch Katherine Heigl tell me one more time how hard her life is I’m going to punch a puppy in the eye. Because, really, even in a bad wig, be honest Katherine, your life is GORGEOUS.
Indie films are owning it when it comes to awesomely complicated female characters who make crappy choices but really savour those choices, which is what defines the human experience, right? Being in charge of your own destiny even if you’re super shit at choosing paths or people or places, or even knowing what kind of coffee to order that won’t just taste like sicked up gravy in a hot cup. So here are some movies you need to absolutely see immediately if you haven’t already, that’ll rejuvenate your spirit or at least make you feel like you’re not so alone in having zero fucking clue what the actual point of life is!
Jenny Slate is, like, exquisite in this self-dubbed abortion-rom-com, in which our hero (fuck that heroine bullshit, how about some inclusive language about now?) Donna gets dumped and pregnant in a really short space of time, so has to simultaneously deal with getting over a douchebag whilst coming to terms with an unwanted pregnancy via a one night stand with a guy who seems pretty great, actually. Her parents support her, but mom is less than thrilled her daughter’s a stand-up comic working in a book store that’s about to close-down, right at the end of her twenties. Her BFF and flat mate, played by an ever, just, beautiful steely Gaby Hoffman, is all dry wit and grace: I have developed a total crush, only solidified by her turn on Girls as Adam’s freaky sister.
Obvious Child asks tough questions: are any of us in charge of our destinies, really, or do some people just make everything look perfect? How difficult is it, truly, to make informed decisions which are right for us and our bodies, when they’re met with other people’s disapproval? And most importantly, these rites of passage which inform our lives and bodies, particularly as women, why are they so rarely shown in movies and on TV? I mean, Dirty Dancing has an abortion in it, right? But why are they still so underrepresented? When choices are constantly being stripped away, especially with legislations like Texas’ constrictive abortion law, how can we empower women to not only own their decisions, but celebrate them, as part of the human experience, as a part of their memory and history and culture. Enough with the repression and secrecy.
Slate is a total mess, drinking too much red wine, leaving angry voice mails, performing stand-up drunk, hanging out with creepy comics in bachelor pads and regretting it, and there’s something so beautiful about a lead character knowing there’s no perfect ending. And no-one explains the need or reason for this film better than its director: “We made the feature in response to a bunch of romantic comedies that were about unplanned pregnancy and ended in childbirth. I liked Knocked Up a lot, and I liked Juno and Waitress. I enjoyed watching them, but it didn’t ring true to me. The choice to terminate a pregnancy is rarely shown anywhere in our culture. Especially in movies, they never let the woman make the other choice — or even say the word ‘abortion.’”
This movie didn’t even get a cinema release in the UK, materialising on Netflix and online in 2014. It’s super understated and basically perfect in my book. Melanie Lynskey plays the pretty messed up and not ready to fix herself yet Amy, whose husband left her for a woman he worked with. She’s been living with her parents since that happened, eating chips and dips for breakfast, and never changing out of her pyjamas (which is my dream tbh). Everyone does their best to encourage her to leave the ‘funk’ she’s in, with super patronising advice, like take up yoga, get hobbies, or buy a dress and find some girlfriends. At a dinner party her parents throw, she chance meets Jeremy, played by Christopher Abbott of Girls sort-of-fame, and he kisses her, randomly, before the night’s over. They end up hanging out like every night and connecting in the sort of way you don’t really believe can happen in real life, but it can, and despite odds, and being so completely different, they forge something really legit. And fuck, a lot.
The lead in this movie makes no apologies for the mess she’s in: everyone around her struggles to understand why she won’t buckle and smile and just deal with her situation the way that they want her to, and there’s something so special about seeing this in a movie led by a woman. She owns her disasters and embarrassments. She knows there’s no easy way through her mourning and depression and loss and lost-ness. She does the best she can do, which doesn’t involve any self-help bullshit that rom-coms perpetrate. Sometimes it’s really hard just being yourself and having others let you be that, however fucked up that version of yourself may be at any one time. Sometimes, you’ve really just got experience your moment of being in the bin, and revel in it, until such a time you can climb out on your own.
Like Obvious Child, it promotes the idea that it’s okay to not know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. Those fuckers on FB who seem to have it all figured out? Lying bullshit. It’s okay to change direction. It’s okay to do whatever the hell you want, in fact.
This movie may be polarizing and oft unseen (as with many Diablo Cody ventures post-Juno), but it’s absolutely one of my favourite films of all time. It stars Charlize Theron as a successful ghostwriter of a teen book series who returns to her hometown upon hearing her ex-boyfriend has just had a baby, with one very simple goal: winning him back, yo! Theron is at times unrecognisable in Juicy Couture, more Paris Hilton than Oscar fodder, and all the better for it. She’s dry as fuck, genuinely doesn’t give a shit, has the sort of confidence I wish I had to own exactly who I am (even if it’s a complete cunt). Sure, she has a soft under layer, and is going through a mid-life crisis/mental breakdown of sorts; her butterfly in reverse metamorphosis is every bit as fun to watch as Shakespearean tragedy.
Young Adult is made even more fun by the fact Patton Oswalt plays her newly acquired BFF, replete with Pixies’ shirt, Star Wars action figures and home brew. Perhaps the only person debase enough to truly understand her, they forge an unexpected friendship, whilst she hunts down Patrick Wilson (who has only looked better half-naked in his Brooklyn townhouse in that episode of Girls fucking Lena Dunham for 20 minutes, yeah boy!) Is Charlize’s character ultimately a horrible person? Probably. Does she care about anyone other than herself? Not really. But she’s honest with herself, and isn’t that the toughest thing of all time, like, ever? Anti-hero, definitely, I’m rooting for her every bit, especially hungover when her dog’s chewing last night’s hair piece. And when she goes psycho at a baby shower and basically tries to dry hump her ex in the nursery: yeah, that!
A completely mesmerizing film for an array of reasons: cinematography that’s kaleidoscope beautiful, Michelle Williams all lost and vulnerable, stellar comedians like Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen delivering absolutely heartbreakingly human performances, and a frickin’ awesome sequence on a waltzer that tells us a million-zillion things without any words at all. I love this movie, and love even more the fact it’s about women finding and losing their footing, especially when society has them pegged: married off and fixed.
Michelle Williams plays Margot, she’s happily married but falls in love with a new neighbour, and in fighting her attraction to him, she unearths elements of herself either dormant or repressed: it’s about how one person, even a practical stranger, can see you so perfectly it shocks you into self reflection/revelation. We’re all fractured, have different versions of ourselves we show to certain people, and it’s completely disarming when anyone manages to cut through that bullshit, distill the version of us we like and can be without trying.
It’s not only in this self-discovery that the movie is beautiful, but in the fact its female characters are unapologetic in who they are. Sarah Silverman plays a recovering alcoholic, Michelle Williams is dissatisfied with so many things and finds it tough to express this dissatisfaction. These are complicated women, and when they shower after swimming there’s not even censorship: we see breasts and bush (or merkins, at the very least) which is a rarity, Hollywood-wise.
The takeaway message is less clear here: is her connection with her husband ultimately worth more or do all relationships dwindle eventually, whoever they’re with? Still, what sticks with me is this, one of my favourite movie quotes of all time: “Life has a gap in it. It just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it.”
Co-written by Rashida Jones, Celeste and Jesse Forever is perhaps the best break up movie of all time. Part-rom-com, part-total-fucked-up-mess, Celeste and Jesse are separated and heading for divorce, but still best friends and living together. Things go a bit wrong when the pair sleep together one night, disturbing the status quo, and confusing their dynamic. It’s often painful to watch because it nails the utter devastation of breaking up a well-established friendship/relationship/marriage, but it’s totally hilarious too.
Rashida plays meltdown brilliantly, so that when Jesse does eventually shack up with someone else, Celeste goes off the rails, dramatically. She’s a rifling through the trash (albeit accidentally), late night phone calls, begging for a second chance, starts smoking pot and getting wasted regularly, ex. And she owns this period of awfulness: every inch of misery is hers and so believable it’ll make your stomach tight.
I’ve seen it a few times and the takeaway message changes each time, depending on my mood while watching, I guess. Sometimes I think it’s saying that a massive break-up is going to feel like a mistake, even if it’s not, and you’ve just got to live with the terrible-ness of that. Other times I think it’s saying that it’s easy to slip out of love with the person you’re married to, and it’s worth trying, your absolute hardest, to rekindle before it’s too late. And then, maybe, it’s okay to just not really know either way, to change your mind at the worst possible time, to operate in purgatory for an entire year, until you feel better; it really may be the only option available.
But Celeste, she’s a smart lady: no rom-com ditz here. She’s got a quick wit, smart mouth, dynamite brain. And I love that.
I LOVE GRETA GERWIG. Like, seriously, how I survived before she existed, I do not know. And Lola Versus, though totally underrated and often slagged off, is no exception Greta-wise, and obviously please also take this as an advertisement for Frances Ha and Greenberg, okay? She’s even good in Arthur. I mean, kind of.
Lola is a mess. Broken up with and miserable, she veers between having misguided sex with best friends to trying to reconnect with that ex even once he’s moved on. She’s a work in progress and, in fact, it’s only when she starts seeing herself through a lens exclusive of men and romantic relationships, that she begins becoming the best version of herself. Plus, when Lola wallows, she does it well. She’s slutty, she eats junk food, she says so much stuff that she shouldn’t.
Frances Ha, similarly, sees Greta as a ridiculous procrastinator, not yet a human being, as she’d put it. And it’s characters operating in this grey area, of constant evolution and change which is so refreshing. There is no ultimate happy ending for these people because there’s no such thing in real life: the rom-com ending is a fallacy we’re ready to shed like last week’s skin. The kiss at the end of your average film, which is supposed to suggest a happy-ever-after is a lie, and actually the beginning of a potentially terrible union which, for all we know, may only last ten seconds. Lola is versus the world, and I relate. Sometimes everything is absolutely conspiring against you.
I don’t really need to tell you that the movie responsible for getting Dunham that HBO contract is worth watching. It’s beautifully shot, of course, about twenty-somethings finding their footing in the city, whilst living at home, relying on family members and friends to help navigate, just, life, you know? And life is really fucking hard sometimes. Jemima Kirke is amaze and Lena’s real life mum and sister appear in the movie. Just watch it already, it’ll improve your life ten fold.
Of course, for every female character we can actually relate to, there are a hundred vapid ridiculous rom-com stereotypes in their place. But these movies have made me feel less alone, like struggling is not only okay but totally normal. And that mistakes aren’t necessarily mistakes at all, but just stuff that happens, that makes us who we are. Pseudo inspirational spiel over and out! Happy watching xoxo