Right under our noses, a bunch of recent movies with women lead characters have done well with both genders: the Twilight series, Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, Salt, Let Me In, Hanna, True Grit, Black Swan. The most badass mutants in the current X-Men: First Class are played by Zoë Kravitz, Jennifer Lawrence and January Jones, and some of the toughest characters on TV are the women who headline The Killing, True Blood, and the upcoming U.S. version of Prime Suspect.
I know – it’s not exactly groundbreaking if a woman has to pack heat, commune with the supernatural, or go crazy to be considered interesting. But even Thelma & Louise blew up a truck. “We have [director]Ridley Scott to thank for making our movie iconic,” Sarandon said in Toronto. “He put us in that heroic setting. We took care of the human part.”
The real battleground these days is comedy. The writer/producer Judd Apatow and his cronies have steered humour directly into the bathroom and kept it locked in there for at least a decade. And now women are following suit. A bunch of she-louts will rage through the multiplexes this summer, practising a school of comedy I can only call – and please forgive me – equal-opportunity farting.
In the upcoming comedy Horrible Bosses, Jennifer Aniston abandons her typical role – the sweet woman the guy eventually comes around to – and goes straight for the crotch as a dentist who sexually harasses her male hygienist. In Friends with Benefits, due July 22, it’s Mila Kunis’s character who wants sex without complications from Justin Timberlake, in much the same way that Natalie Portman held back her emotions from Ashton Kutcher in the recent No Strings Attached. In Thor and the upcoming Crazy, Stupid, Love, it’s the men (Chris Hemsworth and Ryan Gosling, respectively) who take off their shirts, and the women (Natalie Portman and Emma Stone) who drool.
Bad Teacher (which opened yesterday) is the most blatant example. “There’s never been a female character like Cameron’s in a mainstream Hollywood comedy,” Kasdan said. “She has comically terrible values, and no apparent moral compass. It’s the type of character that typically only men get to play. Women aren’t usually allowed to be this outrageous.”
Unfortunately, that so-called outrageousness is really just piggishness in a skirt. Diaz scarfs corn dogs, drinks too much, suds herself down at a car wash like a soft-core porn star, and cracks jokes like a guy. “I love how his eyes sparkle,” one of her fellow female teachers remarks about a cute male colleague (Timberlake again). “I want to sit on his face,” Diaz shoots back.
There was an opportunity for some real rebelliousness here, some potentially groundbreaking humour around how people-pleasing and care-taking women are programmed to be, and what it might look like to have Diaz’s character reject that. But the filmmakers went for boob jokes instead.
There is one small beacon of hope: Bridesmaids. Written by and starring women, directed and produced by men, it was made for $33-million (U.S.), has earned over $136-million, and is lauded by all. Yes, it has its share of potty humour – most infamously in a scene of intestinal distress at a bridal salon – and it relies on the hoary chestnut of women competing with each other. But it also has moments where women talk to each other the way women actually do. And this summer, that’s saying something.
“It’s not like when we sat down to write, we thought, ‘Oh, we’re going to [be crass like men]and it’ll be funny,’ ” Kristen Wiig, its co-writer and star, told Entertainment Weekly. “Women do swear. Women go out. Women drink. Women fall down.”
Women do a lot of other things, too, but you’ve got to start somewhere. “What you hope for is that a few movies like these succeed, and start to make a pattern,” Kasdan said. “Then that opens a range of opportunities. The business people might not think, ‘Let’s do a woman’s movie.’ But they will think, ‘I want to do a Kristen Wiig movie, or a Tina Fey movie.’ ”
“I’ll be happy,” Wiig told EW, “when the day comes when people don’t think it’s such a big deal to have a movie with a lot of women in it. How about it’s just a comedy?”
If audiences vote with their dollars and make hits of movies that headline women, we’ll eventually reach a tipping point where women can star in all kinds of stories – maybe even some without testicle jokes. And what a brave, new world that will be.