Archive for the 'rave' Category

Ruminations on fictional female friendships

Throughout my life, I have had a lot of wonderful friendships with other females. Many of these have been very long-lasting; most of the women I spend time with on a regular basis now I have known since high school. I think very often about how fortunate I am to have a multitude of smart, funny, caring, supportive women in my life, who know me so well. So, I’m lucky—but am I abnormal? Is it odd for a woman to have so many other women for real, true, important friends? I don’t think so. But pop culture really does.

I’ve had several conversations with a new friend in my life—Shannon Bowen, one of the Downton Gabby Society Ladies—about the severe lack of accurate depictions of female friendship on screen. Shannon is a writer who believes in producing the product she’d like to see, therefore constructively addressing the problem at hand. (I really hope that a couple years from now you all will be able to see the film version of the comedy script she’s co-written with a female friendship at its core; it’s great stuff.) What she’s trying to do is something we desperately need as a culture right now. One of the reasons I’m so passionate about film and other kinds of literature is because I know that we can draw a direct link between the ideas we are exposed to and the perceptions we have in reality. For that reason, we desperately need more depictions of women that are not about their relationships with men.

I have raged recently in other spaces about the current happenings in government, where certain people feel that they have the right to regulate women’s bodies, to the point of not feeling like women even need to be included in the conversation about it. There are many factors that go into this thinking, from conservative religious views (separation of church and state be damned) to calculated political moves. Perhaps most alarmingly, there are also some far-right female politicians in the mix. I believe that pop culture contributes mightily to the landscape wherein it’s still possible for these politicians, male and female alike, to see women as people who should not have the same voice as men. Whatever the stated or implied thought process for supporting legislation that endangers women’s health, the belief that women should be controlled in a different way than men are is part of it. Meanwhile, the majority of female characters exist only in order to serve a function in a relationship with a male character—his girlfriend; his mother; his sister; his friend who’s always at the ready to discuss his problems. This is if we’re lucky; a lot of films don’t bother too much with female characters at all. It’s why the Bechdel Test, in its simplicity, is so enlightening about the pervasive pattern. Individual films can fail the Bechdel Test and still be great; when almost all the great films are failing the Bechdel Test, that’s when we need to sound the alarm.

People need to be exposed to depictions of women that are about the parts of our lives that have nothing to do with men. This is key to moving our culture toward one where everyone will view women as individuals who have just as much agency and deserve just as much respect as men do, and not see us simply as components in the lives of men. The simplest way to start this, it seems to me, is with better depictions of female friendships. If women’s friendships were portrayed on screen with the same frequency and variety that men’s friendships are, I truly believe it would help in changing the status quo. And of course, it’s important that these are in projects aimed toward both men and women as an audience—in a post-Bridesmaids world, I know we can do it.

In that spirit, here are just a few of my favorite female friendships of film and TV.

Angela Chase and Rayanne Graff, My So-Called Life

As the story of the beginning of a high school friendship, and a friendship wherein it’ll take a little while for either party to understand why she needs the other one so much, nothing beats Angela and Rayanne. In the same series, the equally impressive but not as generally heralded relationship between Angela and Sharon Cherski—friends who have grown apart, though Sharon can’t grasp why—provides nuanced context for Angela’s new relationships.

Monica Gellar, Rachel Green, and Phoebe Buffay, Friends

In its heyday, Friends was a really good comedy. I’ve been re-watching some of it lately in late night reruns, and I’m still impressed by the complex relationships between the characters. The great part about the female friendships on the show is that the conflicts that come up between the women are rarely about such contrived situations as liking the same man (with a big exception for the bizarre episode where Rachel and Monica fight over Jean-Claude Van Damme…). They talk about men, certainly, but usually in the context of helping one another sort through bad situations. And they also help each other often with career problems and family issues. It’s almost like they all have full, multi-faceted lives! Wow!

Sally and Marie, When Harry Met Sally…

It occurs to me that When Harry Met Sally… probably doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. Well, it’s a romantic comedy, so we’ll forgive it that. But even if what Sally and Marie discuss is mostly Harry, Jess, and other romantic prospects, the comfortable, long-standing, caring vibe of their friendship always comes through. It reminds me of certain friendships I have, where every embarrassing detail of life can be shared with no judgment.

Thelma and Louise, Thelma & Louise

This one just has to be a given. Wrapped up in a nifty action adventure, we get the story of two women who would support each other through anything, and their individual and collective realizations that putting up with the status quo is bullshit.

Lindsay Weir and Kim Kelly, Freaks and Geeks

The “two women hate each other before outside circumstances make them friends” trope is problematic (is it just me, or are friendships usually formed when two people meet and like each other?), but one of the exceptions to the rule comes with Lindsay and Kim on Freaks and Geeks. Kim resents Lindsay’s intrusion into her group after Lindsay befriends Kim’s boyfriend, Daniel. The animosity isn’t really about Daniel, though—it’s about Kim’s inability to relate to someone she believes has a much easier life than hers. In the amazing fourth episode of the series, “Kim Kelly Is My Friend,” Kim brings Lindsay home just to show off to her kind-of-awful family that she can make a “normal” friend. The chaos that ensues starts the two girls on a path to a real friendship, where Kim eventually becomes Lindsay’s biggest cheerleader as Lindsay struggles to reconcile her own wants with what her parents want for her. Truly great writing, and amazing characters.

Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane, Daria

Daria and Jane care about a lot of things that typical teenage characters don’t usually get to care about. They talk about how messed up the world is more than they talk about boys (though they do get the boy talk in there), and their senses of humor are sarcastic and snide. The conflicts they face in their friendship often arise because they are still feeling out their own opinions and convictions, and it’s tough to maneuver when those don’t match up. These characters have depth, and we understand why they would be friends.

There are obviously more great examples besides these. Please share your favorites in the comments! My small sample seems to indicate that TV does a better job than movies; am I wrong? Most of what popped into my head was fairly new; what about more examples from before the ’90s? I want to hear your thoughts!


“You know good and damn well what I’m talkin’ about.”

Today, Ridley Scott woke up and found himself to be 74 years old. Crazy times, huh? I’m sure most people think of him primarily as the man behind the camera for Alien and Blade Runner (and now as the dude whose weird to-do list keeps including a remake and/or sequel to the latter film, maybe?), but my personal favorite of his work will always be Thelma & Louise. I don’t call it a perfect film, but there simply isn’t anything out there that hits the same spot for me. It showcases what feels like a real female friendship (as rare in film as a spotted eagle sighting on a leisurely nature stroll), takes real problems that females face about how they are treated and perceived in society seriously, and is also is a kick-ass road movie with explosions and hot male eye candy. There’s just no other movie like it, right? (Recommendations are very welcome if anyone has some!)

Anyway, happy birthday Ridley Scott, you old son of a gun. Thanks for bringing this script to life. This scene, most of all:

“You say you’re sorry, or I’m gonna make you fuckin’ sorry.” HEAVEN.

Side note: Every six months or so I find myself wandering to Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri’s IMDb page, hoping that there will be some upcoming project there that sounds as terrific and smart and badass as this film, but I’m always disappointed. Something for 2013 called A Season in Central Park with Ronald Bass and Aline Brosh McKenna also listed as writers? There’s no way that’s not a rom-com…not that there’s anything wrong with that…but…Callie! You wrote Thelma & Louise! I want some more foul-mouthed ladies with guns, yo. Get on it.

In appreciation of a small detail

Late last night, I was engaging in that basic pursuit of modern life: gchatting with someone while flipping channels in the background each time I had to wait for him to type out a response. To my delight, on a channel I’d never heard of (“The Hub”—eh?) I came across what I quickly described as “the Holy Grail of random stuff to come across on cable”: an episode of The Wonder Years. One of my favorite shows since seeing the reruns when I was in junior high, and one that helped form my deep appreciation for serialized television, The Wonder Years is of course famous for being one of the most acclaimed television shows to be unavailable on DVD. (Netflix teased us that it would be coming to streaming way back in March; it remains unavailable.) This is because of the prohibitive cost of the rights to all of the period music used. Other shows have reacted to this problem in different ways—Freaks & Geeks kept its music, but the set was quite pricey (and they only had 18 episodes to deal with; The Wonder Years has 115); Daria let go of its music, which for the most part doesn’t take away from the show’s enjoyment, except in a few bits where a visual joke references a song that would have been playing in the background.

The particular Wonder Years episode I came across last night is one that contains one of the purest examples of why the music in that show cannot be so much as tinkered with to facilitate a DVD release. In “Denial” (season four, episode twelve), Kevin is facing the aftermath of hearing Winnie—now attending a different school after her family moved across town—say to him in the previous episode those dreaded three words: “I’ve met someone.” Determined to view this as only a small hurdle to overcome and win her back, Kevin convinces Paul to have a party and invite Winnie. Unfortunately, Winnie also brings the new boy, Roger, and by the end of the night, Kevin and Winnie have a rather heartbreaking fight in the laundry room (forgive the poor sound quality):

It’s obvious that it’s really over. The song playing: “You Are Everything” by The Stylistics.

Over a year later, in season five, episode sixteen, “Double Double Date,” Kevin and Winnie are both attending the same high school, but have each been playing the field (despite having re-acknowledged their feelings for each other at the end of season four). In a rather dumb move, they decide to help set each other up with dates for a dance, and end up going in a foursome. A predictably disastrous night ensues, and the dates end up hitting it off with each other, leaving Winnie and Kevin to be awkward amongst themselves. Then, something strange happens:

The song playing: “You Are Everything” by The Stylistics.

This is one of my favorite subtle callbacks of all time. This is the mark of a project made with incredible care. This is shit you don’t mess with.

A tangent: I am such an incredible nerd for this show and for its use of music that years ago I made a mix CD consisting of nothing but songs from key scenes in the series. I still listen to it often. That playlist:

1. Joe Cocker – With a Little Help From My Friends
2. The Byrds – Turn! Turn! Turn!
3. The Beatles – Blackbird
4. The Temptations – Just My Imagination
5. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Ooh Baby Baby
6. The Supremes – Someday We’ll Be Together
7. The Temptations – My Girl
8. The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes For You
9. The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice
10. The Supremes – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
11. Jimmy Ruffin – What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
12. The Turtles – Happy Together
13. Lovin’ Spoonful – Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind
14. The Beach Boys – God Only Knows
15. The Stylistics – You Are Everything
16. Sam & Dave – Soul Man
17. The Platters – Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
18. Four Seasons – Walk Like a Man
19. Ben E. King – Stand by Me
20. Judy Collins – In My Life

Happy Birthday J.K. Rowling!

Well, J.K. Rowling’s birthday has been over for hours in the UK, but given that she’s not exactly a regular reader of mine, I’ll send this out anyway without feeling like it’s too much of a faux pas. Wishing a happy birthday to a celebrity one doesn’t know is a bit of an odd phenomenon anyway (and don’t get me started on wishing a happy birthday to dead celebrities…I mean, come on), but I mostly see it as an excuse to send some appreciation out into the ether. And boy, do I appreciate J.K. Rowling.

There is a level on which it seems silly to be so grateful for a series of “children’s books,” but when I think about the hours of emotional experience that have been given to me by the Harry Potter series through its author, it’s really not silly at all. I have always been a person who can care to almost unreasonable degrees for fictional characters, and I love being that way; I love being able to reach those highs and lows of happiness, worry, anticipation, sadness, anger, loss and love in a contained realm, in a way that lets me easily slip back to my regular life, which doesn’t often reach those giddy highs, and where I hope desperately to avoid those devastating lows. That is a huge part of what fiction is about, and why stories are a wonderful, crucial part of human existence.

J.K. Rowling gave me a story that in only a few years, I’ve already turned back to multiple times. She gave me characters I care about fiercely in all of their flaws and glory. She created a world that will remain a vibrant place that I can visit over and over. And she showed the world that a work of popular fiction, near-universal in appeal, could also be a carefully constructed, complicated story told through steady, worthy prose that explores themes that are truly meaningful to our lives in contemporary society—something the Dan Browns and Stephenie Meyerses of our time have not done. She is a brilliant writer of fiction, and I believe with my whole being that no matter what else we face in the world, we need brilliant writers of fiction.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 reached the one billion dollar mark in worldwide box office today, in its 19th day in release. This puts it as the eighth highest box office total of all time, with more countries still to open. There are many reasons not to equate profit with quality, but when I see a franchise I know to be the product of superior storytelling reaching incredible numbers of people, it makes me happy. The very existence of the Harry Potter phenomenon makes me happy, and I so look forward to seeing what its author does next.

Thank you, J.K. Rowling.

Gettin’ better all the time.

Today over on that pesky site that takes up so much of my time—which you all should be reading every day, or we are not friends anymore—a piece went up that has been bouncing around inside my head for months and months. It’s a part of my weekly series Bird Watching, which talks about movies directed or written by women. (Notice the rare use of pun by me! Also this is obviously why Great Movies by Women is on hiatus over here. Also, in that column, I also talk about movies by women that are bad! Fun stuff. Also.)

Titled In Defense of Marie Antoinette, the article is almost twice as long as a typical Bird Watching post, because I just couldn’t make myself stop writing about what I love about Sofia Coppola’s film. I could’ve written another 1500 words, easy. And I am not prolific. And while it feels a bit weird right now for me to be blogging about blogging, the experience of writing this article was so lovely, making me love the film even more with every thought, and it’s been on the to-do list for so long, I feel okay indulging myself by calling a little more attention to it.

Because of this article, I’ve been thinking a lot about films that I loved more with each subsequent viewing—especially ones that I liked the first time around, but where the brilliance didn’t hit me or I didn’t feel truly moved until revisiting. Not just movies that I like to watch over and over, but ones that really grew for me with a second (or third, or fourth) look. And so: an opportunity to make a list! You know how I love that. This isn’t definitive, but here are a few films that blossomed like that, the ones that pop into my head immediately:

The Bridge on the River Kwai. A solid, adventure-y, William Holden-y film the first time around; a searing character drama that made me ache the second time around. A film that has aged well thematically, and so has more to offer each time. (Maybe hasn’t aged as well with race portrayals/male short-short wearing, but whaddaya gonna do?)
Amelie. Seriously this is better with every viewing. Like magic. And it’s one of the only films that makes me feel like I’m not a cynic, for just a little while. Hmm…maybe it’s just that that particular feeling has become more precious to me as time passes…
Synecdoche, New York. Did you know that there is some funny shit in this film? I did not, until second viewing. It’s one I plan to revisit every few years, for sure. I think it will feel different with each next stage of life.
Wet Hot American Summer. Bizarre the first time. Funny the second time. Purest genius on all viewings after that.
Night of the Living Dead. How rare for a horror film to be better with repeat viewings! But this one does seem all the more deep and impressive each time I see it.
Marie Antoinette. Duh! I already said that! I’ve always liked this film, but it’s poised to spring onto my all-time favorites list, the more time I spend with it. Plus, I wanted an excuse to post THE BEST TRAILER OF ALL TIME (FOR SERIOUS):

Oh, New Order. You are life.

What films fall into this better-every-time category for you?

Genius dialogue of the day #5

Genius absolutely everything.

The Shop Around the Corner, 1940. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Screenplay by Samson Raphaelson, from the play by Miklós László.

Genius dialogue of the day #4

How to be compelling when consumed by love:

How to be eloquent when caught in an irrational jealous rage:

Bright Star, 2009. Written and directed by Jane Campion.

Other projects:

Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

I love Twitter.

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