What do you do if you're an ardent feminist with a "hate/love" appreciation of Twilight, the megasuccessful franchise that romanticizes the ultracontrolling behaviour of its male love interest? If you're Gillian Goerz, you invite your funny, feminist friends over to get tipsy while lovingly berating the movie for its depictions of female passivity and disempowerment.
That was the catalyst, at least, for Drunk Feminist Films, the popular Toronto Web and event series that Goerz founded with Amy Wood, Steph Guthrie and Shaunna Bruton in late 2012. The group screens popular movies with major gender representation issues – past features have included Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Fifty Shades of Grey – and invites audiences to imbibe while playfully taking the film to task.
The group describes itself as a "collective of feminists who would rather laugh than cry their way through representations of gender in Hollywood films." And it's true, the sellout screenings (they're airing Bring It On Feb. 4 and 6 at the Revue Cinema) take an oft-lighthearted approach to feminist film critique. But they also provide what can be difficult for a film-loving feminist to find – an arena where feminist perspective and analysis can exist alongside simple entertainment.
"This is what a lot of people who attend our screenings are making peace with and that's exactly what we want to facilitate: holding both a loving and critical understanding of something at the same time," says Goerz, a 37-year-old artist and illustrator. "The key is not to pretend the flaws aren't there, but to see and acknowledge them."
Kiva Reardon, founder and editor of the feminist film journal cléo, says there is power in being critical while "laughing instead of being totally depressed."
"Being able to put on critical lenses and acknowledge the problems of certain films while still being able to laugh at them has a really productive value," Reardon says. "We still want to have spaces that are more critical, sometimes angry, but that can be exhausting. These kinds of events give an opportunity for lamenting through humour."
Last summer, Reardon worked with Toronto writer and filmmaker Chandler Levack as Levack prepared for the first iteration of her own series, Feminist Live Reads – all-female, live script readings of mostly-male movies and TV shows. The series has tackled Entourage and Reservoir Dogs; future reads could include Goodfellas and The Godfather.
"As soon as women start portraying those roles, it kind of becomes a critique. But it's still a very loving thing. I love all of those movies," Levack says.
At the Entourage reading, hearing female actresses deliver misogynistic dialogue had both a funny and sobering effect; Levack recalls actress Kathleen Phillips, playing superagent Ari Gold, delivering a line about ejaculating on a Victoria's Secret model.
"Reading the script, I couldn't believe some of things women were going to have to say about women," Levack says. "There was a vital, fascinating discomfort. People were laughing, but also [getting uncomfortable] with a joke about a woman being so ugly that you'd have to 'black out' to have sex with her."
But Levack didn't create Feminist Live Reads as a way to suck the enjoyment from much-loved works. "I love pop culture and I would hate to not be able to take joy out of it," she says. "There's a layered response when you watch something, but you want to think critically of it."
Another emerging Toronto film group, the MUFF Society, defines its feminist perspective by simply championing women in film. The movies they screen – next up is American Psycho on Feb. 17 – aren't qualified solely by passing the Bechdel test (wherein at least two female characters must talk to one another about something other than a man) but by the presence of women working behind and in front of the camera.
"I don't like the guilt and judgment associated with liking certain films, usually chick flicks, and wanting to identify as a feminist," says Sian Melton, founder of the MUFF Society. "Bring It On was written by a woman, starred all women, and grossed $90-million at the box office. That's rad and [screw] if I'm supposed to feel guilty about it because they wore short skirts."
Melton says her goal in creating MUFF was to both expand and challenge the definition of a "girly movie," while creating a community that celebrates fun, film and feminism.
"I think events like MUFF, Feminist Live Reads and Drunk Feminist Films are awesome because they're giving people an opportunity to celebrate the good, and critique, diss, boo, laugh, whatever, at the bad," Melton says. "Hopefully with all of these opportunities, it can be less complicated to be a feminist who loves chick flicks. Or action films. Or horror films."
Drunk Feminist Films presents Bring It On Feb. 4 and 6 at Toronto's Revue Cinema (revuecinema.ca) and Feb. 5 at Kitchener's Apollo Cinema (apollocinema.ca).