The Role (and Roles) of Women in Film

Posted on June 18, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Monika Bartyzel has an excellent and insightful essay on called Girls on Film: Why Supporting Female Characters Matter.

Funny men like Seth Rogen and Jason Segal act as the everyman with a witty sarcastic edge, and since men dominate cinematic comedy, this relatability is front-and-center. But these are male-dominated characteristics that have no realistic female balance or counterpoint. They can offer relatable aspects, but not a comedic mirror for the female audience – women relating women. Since men almost universally take the lead in any comedic film that doesn’t start with “rom,” women must turn to the supporting roles – roles which are not only secondary characterizations, but also clichéd whirlwinds that have little resemblance to reality.

She used twitter to invite comments and heard back from women who were also concerned about the portrayal of female characters:

Most complaints centered on one of the most prevalent characterizations – the shrew – the woman who acts as the anti-fun counterpoint to the fun-loving man, who, as smart as she may be, cannot lighten up, who has no sense of humor and takes the fun away, and sometimes needs the man to teach her to lighten up and live. Other irksome qualities included women with a lack of friends, women as either asexual or ridiculously sexual, clingy partners, unreasonable man-haters, catfighters, superficial characters, bossy beasts, hormonal time bombs, and lest we forget – jealous, green-eyed monsters who will not allow men to interact with any woman who is not a blood relative.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

You and Your Friends in the ‘Bridesmaids’ Trailer

Posted on May 13, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Do you want to appear in the trailer for “Bridesmaids?”  Upload photos of you and your friends or celebrities from your computer or Facebook to make your own version of the “Bridesmaids” trailer and see what you’d look like getting sick while you try on gowns!

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Posted on May 12, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some strong sexuality and language throughout
Profanity: Extremely strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters drink and one combines a tranquilizer and alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some comic peril, extreme gastro-intestinal distress played for humor
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 13, 2011
Date Released to DVD: September 20, 2011 ASIN: B005CHTXY0

There is something intriguingly subversive in “Bridesmaids” that goes beyond the anarchy inherent in all humor and its reliable sub-category, the switch-up.  But we’ll talk about those first to get the basics out of the way.

Comedy is almost always about boundaries — pushing through, transgressing, upending — and especially about the boundaries that define our assumptions and expectations.  One classic way is substitution or switch: Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dress as women.  So does Dustin Hoffman.  It undermines some of our fundamental notions of gender and identity.  Then there is good, old-fashioned anarchy, when some uncontrollable force like the Marx Brothers or a leopard or the Cat in the Hat or just a madcap love interest turns the life of the hero upside down.  “Bridesmaids” has both. Judd Apatow, one of the most successful writer-director-producers of recent movie comedies, has been justifiably criticized for the guy-centric and bromantic themes of his movies, which over and over again feature boy-men terrified by incomprehensible civilization and maturity as represented by angry and humorless females.  His movies have (usually) provided such sturdy and reliable box office performers that they have created an established genre — which means it is ripe for some deconstruction.  Enter the ladies.  When “Saturday Night Live” MVP Kristen Wiig appeared in a small role in one of Apatow’s films, he invited her to write a script.  She and her friend Annie Mumolo (who appears in the film as a terrified airplane passenger) came up with “Bridesmaids,” a female-led comedy that gives the starring roles, the punchlines, the outrageously explicit gross-out comedy, and the character arc to the women.  That simple shift alone gives the movie a freshness that is immediately intriguing if sometimes unsettling (see reference to the gross-out comedy).  It takes on more than the standards of the typical Apatow-style comedy, which are dear to the heart of its fans.  It takes on something even more dear to the hearts of the “Sex in the City”/”Say Yes to the Dress” segment of the audience — the onslaught of wedding drama, with all of its attendant opportunities for humiliation and over-spending, often at the same time.  Some in the audience will find the over-the-top scenes like Wiig’s imitation of a part of the male anatomy or the intense gastro-intestinal distress of four women trying on gowns at an exquisitely appointed boutique the most tellingly hilarious moment.  But others will find it in a simple scene that merely involves opening an invitation to a wedding shower.

Annie (Wiig) has just about hit rock bottom as the movie begins.  Just about every possible element of her life is maximally directed at destroying any remaining shreds of self-esteem.  Her bakery has folded.  Her boyfriend left her.  She is sex-buddies — without the buddy part — with a handsome but completely self-absorbed man (a hilariously sleazy John Hamm).  She has a job she hates at a jewelry store and awful brother-and-sister roommates.  Her only bright moments are her time with her lifelong friend Lilian (Maya Rudolph), who always makes her feel understood and supported.  When Lilian gets engaged, Annie is genuinely thrilled for her and happy to be her maid of honor.  But she is sad and bereft and a little jealous, too.  Lilian’s life is coming together for a big happily ever after wedding and she feels left behind and scared.

Those feelings are exponentially magnified when Annie attends Lillian’s engagement party and meets her new friend, Helen (Rose Byrne of “Get Him to the Greek”).  Helen is wealthy and beautiful and very competitive.  Annie starts to get overwhelmed and frantic as she tries to keep up with her obligations — the bachelorette party, the bridal shower, the ultra-expensive bridesmaid gown.  Infuriatingly, every time Annie fails, Helen serenely sails through with a gentle, pitying look, and takes over.  Along the way, Annie meets a kind-hearted cop (the unassumingly charming Chris O’Dowd of “Pirate Radio”), but she is so scared and sick of herself that his genuine kindness and affection just make her feel worse.  And then, when Lilian’s big day comes, Annie gets one more chance to be a true maid of honor.

Wiig and Mumulo are first-time screenwriters and they have not quite figured out the structure of a screenplay.  It feels like a string of sketches and goes on about 20 minutes too long (they should lose the “funny drunk” scene for starters).  But an bit of an amateurish touch in the writing and the improvisational riffs of dialog work nicely, giving it a fresh, heartfelt quality.  It is clear that the actresses had a blast unleashed from the usual film comedy roles of dream date or harpy.  Many of the funny lines in the trailers and commercials do not even appear in the film; this is one where the DVD extras will be as much fun as the movie.  And there are some sturdy underpinnings that demonstrate real care.  Watch Annie’s morning-after scenes with the two men.  With one, she leaps out of bed to primp so she can pretend she always looks freshly made up and she lies about what she wants from the relationship and expects him to know the truth.   The other invites her to be her truest self, truer than she is really ready for.

Like a chocolate with a crunchy outside shell, this movie has a gooey center.  Its biggest surprise is the way it deftly captures the chemistry and rhythms, the deep sense of connection, and — sometimes — the passive-aggressive, deadlier-than-the-male viciousness  in female friendships.  Its greatest strength, though, is its cast, who act as though they have been waiting all their lives to get up to bat and knock it out of the park.  Byrne is just right as the silky mean girl.  But in one of the best performances of the year, Melissa McCarthy (“Gilmore Girls,” “Mike and Molly”) steals the film as Lilian’s future sister-in-law and Annie’s fellow bridesmaid.  She is fierce, she is fearless, she is wildly hilarious, and she raises the bar for the guys over at atelier Apatow.  Gentlemen, over to you.


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Comedy Movies -- format Romance

27 Dresses

Posted on January 17, 2008 at 7:40 am

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, some innuendo and sexuality.
Profanity: Some strong language (s-word, b-word)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking (as liberating and empowering), characters get tipsy
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence including slaps
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 18, 2007

27%20dresses.jpg Jane has a special closet in her apartment filled with 27 dresses so ugly that only two things can be true: (1) they were all bridesmaid’s dresses, and that means (2) all 27 brides assured her that they could be shortened and worn again.
Jane (Katherine Heigl of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Knocked Up”) is a natural caretaker. After her mother died when she was a child, she took care of her sister. She has taken care of 27 different brides, helping out with wedding details that have her over-stuffed day-planner bristling with yellow sticky reminders. In her job, she takes care of her boss, George (Edward Burns), the too-good-to-be-true mountain-climbing CEO of an impeccably politically correct corporation. She makes sure he gets his breakfast burrito and picks up his dry cleaning. In her few spare moments, she sighs with love for George or sighs with hope over the weekly write-ups of the most romantic weddings in the Sunday paper. Her dreams are of white dresses, tossed bouquets, and big cakes with lots of icing. Her reality is…dreams.
Just as she decides to let George know how she feels, urged on by her best friend Casey (the marvelous Judy Greer, wasted in an underwritten role as the movie’s designated sleep-around friend), Jane’s globe-trotting model sister Tess (Malin Akerman) arrives and she and George immediately decide to get married, with guess who taking care of all the cake, flower, and decoration details. All of this is so distracting that Jane barely has time to notice the killer smile of Kevin, a cynical reporter (the marvelous James Marsden, almost-wasted in an under-written role that seems left over from an old Clark Gable character). For no reason except the demands of the increasingly flimsy plot, Kevin is required to keep a couple of obvious secrets.
Heigl is the real deal, with girl-you-wish-lived-next-door imperishable but accessible beauty, appealing, endearing, vulnerable, with understated comic timing. Marsden, too, has charm to spare. Both hold our interest and keep us rooting for them even when the script does its best to get in the way. Do we really need yet another scene with characters letting go by getting tipsy and singing 80’s songs? Akerman (“The Heartbreak Kid”), in her second role in five months as a selfish, irresponsible, and all-around nightmare bombshell who impulsively gets engaged, struggles with an impossible task as she tries to be both over-the-top obnoxious and sympathetic at the same time. What does work is Heigl and the dresses and the fact that, like Jane, most of the audience loves to get misty at weddings. Watching this film is like waiting to catch the bride’s bouquet, more anticipation than fulfillment.


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Comedy Genre , Themes, and Features Movies -- format Romance
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