O Sister, Where Art Thou?

Below is a terrific article from today’s Guardian where Anne Billson asks the heavy question: Where are the meaty comedy roles for women? She addresses the very obvious lack of smart, sexy comedic roles that dominated 40s film. Instead of the sharp, clever roles embodied by Rosalind Russell and Kate Hepburn, we have instead an endless slew of what Billson calls “Jimmy Choo-ing” and “Vera Wang-ing.”

Article below:

Where Are the Meaty Comedy Roles for Women?

They don't make them like they used to ... Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. Photograph: Cine Text/Allstar
They don't make them like they used to ... Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. Photograph: Cine Text/Allstar

Men, I share your pain. Chick-flicks really suck. Especially in this post-Sex and the City period, when their focus seems to have shrunk down to shopping and weddings, as if those are the only subjects women could possibly be interested in. I gaze, bemused and, yes, fascinated, at curious anthropological artifacts such as Bride Wars or He’s Just Not That Into You or Confessions of a Shopaholic, in which Kate Hudson or Ginnifer Goodwin or Isla Fisher play characters who might almost belong to a third gender, a bubble-headed one that emits ear-splitting shrieks, teeters constantly on the verge of hysteria and acts as an indiscriminate mouthpiece for the placement of overpriced tat.
Perhaps the recession will finally put the kibosh on all this vulgar Jimmy Choo-ing and Vera Wang-ing. Perhaps designer name-dropping is fated to go the way of the dinosaur, to be replaced (please God) by comic situations that don’t involve tulle-clad brides tussling in the aisle or catfights over Gucci boots, or maybe even (dare one dream) by a smidgeon of emotional truth and some witty, clever dialogue. In fact, I’d settle for slapstick and cheap sarcasm, just so long as it’s not wedding related.

It’s not as though there’s a shortage of female talent capable of delivering a well-timed quip. Even the most Friends-phobic curmudgeon has to admit that 10 years’ toil on a popular sitcom will have honed Jennifer Aniston’s comic chops. So where are they now? Nowhere to be seen or heard in He’s Just Not That Into You, that’s for sure, where all she wants is … to get married. Isla Fisher carries Confessions of a Shopaholic on her adorable shoulders, but it’s clear she’s punching below her weight. For God’s sake, someone give these girls something they can sink their teeth into.

But it doesn’t have to be like this! Think back to His Girl Friday, in which Rosalind Russell juggles fiance, ex-husband, speed-of-light dialogue and the ethics of journalism, wears extravagant hats and performs an impressive rugby tackle. Maybe the secret is that the role was originally written for a man, which lends it a breadth missing from the usual female stereotypes.

So I’d like to see a little more role reversal, please. I’m fed up with charmless slackers like Seth Rogen getting off with hotties, so how about a rom-com about a girl geek who gets knocked up by an overachieving Mr McDreamy? How about Sarah Silverman as a 40-year-old spinster who sets out to lose her virginity? Or some edgy comic business relating to abortion, or menstruation? (No? Probably too much to ask, I know.) More to the point, where is the female Judd Apatow, playing godmother to a new wave of funny ladies in femme-oriented comedies that allow their characters to live lives beyond Prada? Five years ago, with Mean Girls, Tina Fey looked as though she might be shaping up to fill that role, and of course last year she scored a double-whammy with Sarah Palin and 30 Rock. Yet her last movie was the brain-dead Baby Mama. Though I guess babies make a change from shopping and weddings.

But why can’t someone write a female equivalent of, say, the mock-biopic Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, so Anna Faris could expand on her scene-stealing Britney Spears impersonation from Just Good Friends with a potted send-up of half a century of girly music, instead of being stuck in cutesy fluff like The House Bunny?

Or how about a female stoner comedy? Actually, there already is one of these – Gregg Araki’s Smiley Face, in which Faris eats all of her flatmate’s hash-cupcakes, leading to a masterclass in 101 dope-addled expressions as her day devolves into a paranoid nightmare of botched auditions, sausage factories and a first edition of the Communist Manifesto. Now that’s funny. But for some reason the film was never given a proper release in this country (though you should be able to find it on DVD). British distributors evidently concluded there wasn’t enough shopping in it.

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Film writer and social media marketing professional. 2019 Social Ambassador for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Previously: social media associate at Warner Archive and script writer for Turner Classic Movies. Working on a Montgomery Clift biography due late 2020.

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