Jill Clayburgh lectures Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, one of the few studio films on offer this northern summer aimed at women. Source: Supplied
IT'S exactly 20 years since Thelma and Louise drove their car over the rim of the Grand Canyon to immortality, but that glorious moment of liberation has not been forgotten. the feisty road movie sits on many women's mental mantelpieces like a trophy, the like of which we have rarely seen since.
Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis were strong heroines with an extraordinary until-death-do-us-part friendship.
They also wore great sunglasses, drove a turquoise 1966 Thunderbird convertible and discovered Brad Pitt for the world.
This week sees the opening of another commercial movie about female friendship: the comedy Bridesmaids, which has already grossed $US100 million at the box office in the US by dint of many funny, filthy scenes and its portrayal of the troubled relationship between the bride, her bridesmaid and a pushy, rich new best friend.
Sometimes it’s insightful; sometimes it’s like a tribute to Flying High; and sometimes it’s disgusting. the sterling cast (who all look like real women!) includes Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne and Maya Rudolph, as well as Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, who for once looks like a real tool. in all, very refreshing.
The film is produced by Judd Apatow, creator of the 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked up. in a sense, Bridesmaids is revolutionary because it is taking that mainstream humour and bringing it to a female audience. it feels ridiculous, like carrying a whoopee cushion in your handbag. yet people forget that Apatow cut his comedy teeth writing for the television sitcom Roseanne, so gross-out chick flicks come easy.
Bridesmaids was written by Wiig (once of Saturday Night Live) with Annie Mumolo, and has already made back its production budget. their style is reminiscent of early Nora Ephron, who scripted when Harry Met Sally.
Bridesmaids sticks out like a big, fat, frilly wedding dress among the blockbusters being served up by the big studios for our delectation. To name but 10: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Conan the Barbarian 3-D, Cars 2, Captain America, the Hangover part II, fast and Furious 5, Green Lantern, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cowboys & Aliens and Transformers 3.
Largely aimed at small boys and men who never grew up, the films contain superheroes and numbers for easy brand recognition.
As the movie website Butter+Popcorn recently noted, "in a [northern] summer dominated by testicles, it’s often hard to find the vaginas."
With more than half of cinema tickets bought by women, isn’t the old boys’ club in Hollywood overlooking something? And isn’t it pathetic to still be writing that sentence 20 years after Louise killed the man who tried to rape Thelma, after which they took off in their car knowing there was no point in expecting justice?
As Melissa Silverstein, of the Women in Hollywood website, puts it: "Thelma & Louise made a difference culturally to women, but not so much to mainstream cinema. They’re still leaving dollars at the door by missing out on the female audience."
Fortunately, there is a female intelligence test that can be applied to any film. it was invented by American comic book writer Alison Bechdel and is now known as the Bechdel Test. A movie passes if it has at least two women in it with names, who talk to each other about something besides a man. You will not be surprised to learn that the blockbusters mentioned above are not expected to rate highly on the Bechdel Test, and failures already this year include: Arthur, Limitless, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Rango, Rio, Source Code, the Hangover part II, Battle Los Angeles and the Eagle. in the Hangover part II, women do speak, but they don’t interrupt, even when one man says in front of another’s wife-to-be: "not big breasts on her, but still a solid rack for an Asian."
Actually, there is at least one blockbuster that, though unseen so far, will probably pass the Bechdel Test, and that’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2, with another solid performance by Emma Watson as Hermione and Helena Bonham-Carter as Bellatrix. in a torture scene.
But for every step forward we take one back, or at least break a heel. You can only boggle at the idea of applying the test to the announced Piranha 3DD, which is about cup sizes, and fish, in 3-D.
No discussion of female friendship and comedy in films can pass without full analysis of the Sex and the City franchise. Carrie Bradshaw’s trajectory began as genius, iconoclastic television; became overblown in the first movie; and, by the time Sex and the City 2 staggered in, had resorted to such appalling jokes it could have been retitled Menopause in the Desert.
We all expected that SATC 2 would be heavily airbrushed, but it seemed that Carrie and her girlfriends also had their brains Botoxed. the four smart New Yorkers metamorphosed into lobotomised, gawping tourists, trapped by their stilettos in the sands of Abu Dhabi, laughing at women in burkas and asking: "What’s a souk?"
Subtlety and wit drained away as Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte took a greedy all-girls freebie for a week in a foreign land. All you felt was a sense of loss: these were women you once loved, old friends from late-night TV. how did they end up like this, parodies of their previous selves?
But maybe things are moving on. Sarah Jessica Parker, who played Carrie, is appearing later this summer in an American adaptation of Allison Pearson’s novel I Don’t know how She does it, about a female executive juggling work, love and family.
Certainly, quality films as opposed to blockbuster-wannabes are showcasing the lives of women. the 10 Oscar-nominated movies this year included Black Swan, the dark, camp tale of a barking ballerina; true Grit, with Hailee Steinfeld as a wild west heroine; the Kids are All right, a comedy about lesbian mothers; and Winter’s Bone, an atmospheric thriller set in the Ozarks starring Jennifer Lawrence.
At Cannes this year, four female directors were in competition for the Palme d’Or, compared with none at all last year. They included Julia Leigh’s modern take on Sleeping Beauty, Maiwenn’s Paris police drama Polisse and Naomi Kawase’s Hanezu No Tsuki. But the standout film – and the likeliest to cross over to larger audiences – was Lynne Ramsay’s we need to Talk about Kevin, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver and starring Tilda Swinton. Mothering doesn’t get tougher than having a teenage killer for a son.
But, like I said, you move forward, then you break a heel: one of the freshest, toughest heroines, Lisbeth Salander of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, seems to have been sexed up for her Hollywood remake. in the subtitled Swedish films, Noomi Rapace plays her hard and punky, but Rooney Mara’s poster appearance for the film, out later this year, reveals her nipple-pierced breasts, as she is held by Daniel Craig.
Salander’s detective skills remain unaffected, we hope. And perhaps that’s progress. As Thelma said to Louise before they jumped: "Let’s go on!"