Yesterday we looked at recent films telling the stories of men and today I’m following up with three films about the stories of women. I have to say, women are faring much better than their male counterparts at the moment. I don’t know whether this is just because there are still so few films with female leads that they have to be more interesting than those with male leads, if it’s a case of production companies, genres, or whether it’s simply my personal preferences coming into play.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an adaptation of the graphic novel (which I’m yet to read). It tells the story of 15-year-old Minnie (Bel Powley – amazing) and her sexual awakening. Like Paper Towns, which we looked at yesterday, it’s a rites of passage story –a much less sanitised one, although still fantastical in its own way.
Much of the press for the film has focused on the fact that it has an 18 certificate, rather than a 15. The argument is that this means its target audience can’t watch it. Whilst this certainly a debate to be had over what constitutes an 18 film, given 16-year-olds can have sex but can’t watch it, I can see why this probably fell into that category because there is a lot of sex in its as well as drug-taking. To be honest, it’s not going to appeal to all teenagers. It will appeal to those moody, romantic, bookish types but my young hairdresser and her friends went to see it and it didn’t really float their boat at all.
I liked this film. It did have the same problem that things like Skins have in that the characters are having way more sex, taking way more drugs and drinking way more interesting booze than real teenagers ever get to do (I’m not sure whether or not the comic book is inspired by the author’s life, if so, maybe she just had an unusually exciting teenagehood), but at the same time, it does portray some of the realistic emotions of that period of life around struggling with identity, future and realising that grown-ups aren’t really that grown-up after all.
Powley is brilliant in the lead role and looks like she could be the spiritual sister of Germaine from Raised by Wolves (the two texts have quite a lot in common). I wouldn’t say this film is necessarily groundbreaking-in some ways, it is not anything massively out of the ordinary. While Paper Towns was a romanticised coming-of-age film, this is your typical down and dirty coming-of-age film, but I’m sure we’ve seen several things like it before. What does set this apart is Minnie’s love of cartoons and drawing, something that bleeds through the whole film and lends it a vaguely surreal tone. It’s definitely worth the watch, at least on DVD or Netflix when it comes out there, but it’s not particularly a revolution.
Something that has been heralded as being part of a revolution in filmmaking, particularly comedy, is Trainwreck. Coming from the stable of Judd Apatow and starring Amy Schumer, it focuses on the love life of character Amy as she tries to stop being a ‘trainwreck’. So far, so Bridget Jones. To be honest, as much as I like films like Bridesmaids and The Heat, it is a little bit annoying that all the coverage of such films makes out that they invented female fronted comedy when the likes of Bridget Jones were doing just fine at it many years earlier.
I liked Trainwreck. It was sweet, funny and well-intentioned. However, I wanted to love it. I thought it was going to be something much more exciting and daring than it was in the end. It’s a fairly traditional plot and is probably also a little over long for what it needs to be. Go and see it if you want a likeable, funny rom-com with a subtle spike. Don’t bother if you are expecting a radical shift in cinema.
Finally, my favourite film of the last few weeks and a contender for my film of the year. Mistress America was something I didn’t really know much about before I went to see it. All I really knew was that Noah Baumbach was on directing duties and Greta Gerwig was starring. I always like Gerwig, I think her characters are interesting (although they are beginning to be quite similar to one another) and the films she makes are always slightly left of centre. I was actually quite intrigued by the prospect of the How I Met Your Father series that was mooted as a How I Met Your Mother spin-off given that she had been cast in the lead role and it was a shame that it never got off the ground because it might have offered something quite different to its predecessor.
Mistress America tells the story of Tracey, an 18-year-old just starting university he moves to New York. While she’s there, she meets up with her future stepsister, Brooke. What follows is a sequence of misadventures involving the two and their supporting cast of friends, exes and associates, many of which Tracey writes about in a story she’s secretly basing on Brooke in which she expresses both her admiration for and contempt for the older woman. It’s not an especially plot heavy film, but that’s not really the point. It’s a film about relationships, personalities and the absurdities of human communication.
One of the things I really liked about this film was that if you trimmed the first act, it could very easily make a great stage play. The second act, in particular, where the whole cast end up at the home of Brooke’s ex would be just brilliant on stage and echoes the likes of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It was pacy dialogue, absurd situations, lots of character interactions – just made for theatre. (Except obviously it’s in a film, but hey, maybe someone will adapt it)
I also liked that the film, for all its estrangement from reality, didn’t take easy routes to its conclusion. Overall, I found it very funny, well paced and touching. If you liked Frances Ha, you will like this-the two have a lot in common. It won’t be to everyone’s taste. Some people will find the characters simply too irritating and, as with most films, it does reek quite a bit of rich white people’s problems (but it tackles that genre WAY better than Tell Me You Love Me). But despite those caveats, I loved it and will definitely be watching it again when it comes out for home release.