Trust the Viewer

Last night, as I was re-watching one of my favourite recent films, Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) (2006), something struck me: this film thinks I’m smart. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t think I’m stupid. Read More Trust the Viewer

Fictionalized Familiarity

In his influential book Camera Lucida, French theorist Roland Barthes explores of the power of photographic images, and their relationship to and with the viewer. Barthes’ book has been on my mind recently, as I race to watch my way through my filmography before I begin my graduate program in a week. Yesterday I re-watched a Québécois film that I first saw several years ago. The film profoundly affected me, as it did then. Read More Fictionalized Familiarity

A Cosmic Existential Crisis

Another Earth (2011) has an interesting concept. This, of course, sounds like kind of tepid praise that is usually followed with a loaded “but”¦“ I have no such follow-up concerns.

The current film landscape is filled with unoriginality. In August alone, Hollywood has or will release six remakes or sequels (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Final Destination 5, Conan the Barbarian, Fright Night, Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World, and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark). In my mind, having an interesting concept is very high praise. Read More A Cosmic Existential Crisis

Why I’m Afraid of a 13-Year-Old Boy

Crazy Stupid Love (2011) is not a very good movie. It might be worth the price of admission to see the way Ryan Gosling wears a suit, and it is certainly worth it to see Gosling and Emma Stone’s chemistry, particularly in one scene that so effectively balances emotional depth and subtle hilarity that it seems out of place among the easy one-liners and thinly strung together plot lines of the rest of the film. Read More Why I’m Afraid of a 13-Year-Old Boy

Fontrum: My Reality TV Affliction

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “fontrum” as, well”¦ nothing. Because it’s not a real word. But Urban Dictionary understands my affliction:

Feeling embarrassment for someone that doesn’t have enough common sense to feel the embarrassment that they should be feeling for themselves for their actions. [sic]

Read More Fontrum: My Reality TV Affliction

The Half-Baked Rebellion of “Friends With Benefits”

In his review of the recently-released Friends With Benefits (2011), Toronto film critic Jason Anderson discusses the recent trend of Hollywood films “treating sex too casually.” To be clear, Anderson makes no attempt to argue for or against any moral implications of casual sex; rather, he discusses how such a casual treatment upends the traditional formula of romantic comedies. He writes: Read More The Half-Baked Rebellion of “Friends With Benefits”

Onscreen Summer

Summer is a sensual season. In this case I don’t define “sensual” as “sexual” (after all, I’m so hot I don’t want to be within three feet of someone else), but rather in a more fundamental way: it is a time where all the senses feel engaged. Mornings and evenings are glowing, interrupted by the blindingly bright midday sun. The occasional breeze feels cool and indulgent against sweat-drenched skin. Read More Onscreen Summer

In Defence of Imperfection

Last weekend’s New York Times Magazine featured a funny, insightful, self-deprecating piece by Carina Chocano, in which she discussed one of my favourite hopeless clichés – the Strong Female Character:

“Strong female character” is one of those shorthand memes that has leached into the cultural groundwater and spawned all kinds of cinematic clichés: alpha professionals whose laser-like focus on career advancement has turned them into grim, celibate automatons; robotic, lone-wolf, ascetic action heroines whose monomaniacal devotion to their crime-fighting makes them lean and cranky and very impatient; murderous 20-something comic-book salesgirls who dream of one day sidekicking for a superhero; avenging brides; poker-faced assassins; and gloomy ninjas with commitment issues.

I discussed this one-dimensional understanding of “strong” when it comes to women on-screen a few weeks ago. “Strong” is not a matter of size or importance of a role or character. Rather, it has become synonymous with a sexy, steely gaze; women with perfect hair and a perfect shot; Angelina Jolie in any movie she’s done since 2005 (let’s all try to forget The Changeling, shall we?). As Chocano puts it:

Maybe the problem is semantic. Maybe what people mean when they say “strong female characters” is female characters who are “strong,” i.e., interesting or complex or well written – “strong” in the sense that they figure predominantly in the story, rather than recede decoratively into the background. But I get the feeling that what most people mean or hear when they say or hear “strong female character” is female characters who are tough, cold, terse, taciturn, and prone to scowling and not saying goodbye when they hang up the phone.

But heaven forbid we stray too far from this trope! In her L.A. Times review of Bad Teacher (appropriately infuriatingly entitled “˜You Want Raunchy Female Comedy? Be Careful What You Wish For.’), Karina Longworth hops on the Bridesmaids-fueled women-in-Hollywood train (I have a first-class seat, natch!), but she veers pretty dramatically from my own destination:

The general argument holds that because studios produce so few films built around strong lady protagonists, Hollywood must hate women. But be careful what you wish for. Here, a “strong woman” means a lazy, lying, scheming, slutty, and obstinately materialistic one”¦

Longworth goes on to criticize the film further for its seemingly terrible narrative and sloppy execution; this, I can’t argue with. But the above quote? My initial reaction is: What is so wrong with that?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’d rather have well-developed, complex, important, imperfect female characters than all the one-dimensional Strong Female Characters in the world. Give me an inappropriate loser, a slob, and a sad-sack any day. Because I can relate to them. I can understand them. I AM them.

I read many reviews of Bridesmaids that struck a similar tone to Longworth’s quote:

Is this what feminists fought for? The right for women to make poop and fart jokes?

Kristen Wiig’s character is not a good role model.

These are not positive representations of women! 

One of the reasons I loved Bridesmaids is because Annie (Wiig) was so imperfect. She was different from the perfect women, beaten down by the external forces of life (no fault of her own!). Yes, she had been dealt a bad hand by life, but she also contributed to her lackluster station. She was petty and resentful, selfish and unwilling to overlook her own issues for the sake of a friendship. She willfully remained in the most awful of “relationships” with her asshole “friend-with-benefits” and turned away from gestures of friendship and caring from the people around her. She was imperfect. She was real. People are sometimes assholes and jerks offscreen, and it’s no different onscreen (has Longworth never seen a Noah Baumbach movie? They’re filled with assholes and jerks!). Just as I sometimes am, and just as you sometimes are (let’s be real here).

I will argue until I’m blue in the face that these characters are infinitely stronger, and infinitely more positive, than any number of cookie-cutter female tropes out there. It is far better for women and girls to see that they need not be a one-note character in their own lives.