So, the question I’d like to see Hollywood answer is where are the movies that are simply about women?
Why not just create a female spy character that may grow to be as iconic as James Bond so that young girls can watch her? The idea that we have to simply put a female body in to a male character is not only lazy and severely lacking in creativity but it’s sexist. It tells us that stories about women are only valid when they are constructed through the male gaze and embody traditionally masculine gender roles. An all female Oceans 11? I’ve already seen Sex and the City.
Halloween is lurking around the corner and whether you’re a hardcore participant or a sideline observer, the screening of certain iconic films is a time-honored tradition most of us get behind. Though not specific to Halloween, horror movies abound this time of year. I have never been a fan of horror movies. They’re gross! And why are the girls always naked when they die? Any image of a horror movie I try to recollect is just a generic shower scene of naked women being viciously attacked. That happens in all of them, right?
Most people love horror movies. They’re often top grossing on opening weekends, celebrated in marathons on cable TV, and late night film festivals at your local theater are dedicated to them…from moderately horrific like Carrie to deeply disturbing like Saw. But somewhere amongst the gore and grime, the mortification and mutilation of female bodies lives a bedazzled nugget that is Teen Witch.
Released in 1989 and originally pitched as the female companion to Teen Wolf, Teen Witch was a definitive moment marking Hollywood’s realization that teen girls are a market worth serving. Which is how Teen Witch has endeared itself as a cult classic stalwart in the Halloween movie canon. It’s basically a 90-minute music video.
Like most films that fall in the “for girls” or “Chick Flick” category, Teen Witch is still reserved as “other” for most audiences. It’s the story of female interest and desire, although mired by the lens that Hollywood perceives them. Teen girl protagonists are by no means the norm when you look at typical storylines of feature films. Therein lie the film’s flaws and its glory. Nobody really takes it seriously and yet legions of people celebrate it.
Mad Max: Fury Road is not a feminist film simply because it has a female protagonist or because it passes the Bechdel test. It is a feminist film because it was consciously constructed to expose grave injustices in Hollywood and the broader culture by making non-traditional choices that resulted in feminist acts.
Overall, Mad Max: Fury Road is a giant fuck you to Hollywood from the soldiers on the front lines. There is no denying that Hollywood is a dark and twisted place where women struggle to exist within a web of gender norms and cultural myths: the myth of youth, the myth of beauty, and the myth of power. In Hollywood and throughout the world, the battle to both destroy and maintain those myths is enacted on women’s bodies. Fury Road takes down all of these myths starting with the misnomer that stories about women aren’t interesting or worthwhile.
What is most revolutionary about Stick It is how the girls became their own agents for change through camaraderie and collective organization. Together they are able to take a stand against a harsh system built on holding them to an impossible standard, and by doing so, they are able to perform for themselves and their peers in a way that satisfies a personal, rather than systematic, goal.
It’s not very often that people take the time to explore the mind of a teenager and it’s even less frequent that this exploration takes place on the Silver Screen. In the current cultural climate, teenagers are nearly an endangered species; 1.6 million are homeless, and those fortunate enough to have a roof over their heads face daily struggles with bullying, body image, sexual predators, and the intense stress of a failing educational system. Even, or maybe especially, those of privilege, who come from stable homes and elite educational institutions are crippled by an overwhelming expectation to succeed.
In It’s Kind of a Funny Story Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is one of the latter: a white, upper class, sixteen-year-old whose anxiety level is so unbearable that he checks himself into a psychiatric ward out of fear that he may commit suicide. Merely moments after being committed, Craig is faced with the reality of his decision—a schizophrenic wanders the halls shouting, his roommate hasn’t left his bed for weeks, and hospital policy requires Craig stay for a minimum of five days. Except for the presence another young patient, Noelle (played by the charming Emma Roberts), Craig is certain he doesn’t belong there. Yet, over the course of a school week, Craig receives an alternate education in life, love, and self-discovery. And believe it or not, it is kind of a funny story.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, have an exceptional ability for constructing emotionally vibrant stories that focus on what are often perceived to be deviant relationships. In 2006’s award-winning Half Nelson, the duo chronicled the cathartic friendship between a meth-addicted middle school teacher and his adolescent student. It’s Kind of a Funny Story also utilizes this dynamic to further explore the invisible barrier between youth and adults when Craig befriends Bobby (Zack Galifianakis), a fellow patient more than twice his age. And just as Half Nelson created a space for the unheard voices of addicts and inner city youth, It’s Kind of a Funny Story breaks the silence of another pair of marginalized groups: teenagers and the mentally ill.
Gilchrist is effectively genuine in portraying Craig’s awareness of his inner turmoil while lacking the ability to articulate it. Instead of weighing down the script with gratuitous dialogue, the film journeys into Craig’s mind through the use of flashback, animation, and one kick-ass rock ‘n roll fantasy. Though his role in The Hangover has practically guaranteed Galifianakis a career as the peculiar yet hilarious sidekick, It’s Kind of a Funny Story offers the North Carolina School of the Arts alum an opportunity to transcend typecasting and delve into a more nuanced and dimensional character. Galifianakis nails it. Without saying a word, he has the ability to be both hilarious and touching while offering Craig a chance to do what he was unable to on the outside: just live. Free from confines of parental expectations and a highly competitive peer group, Craig liberates not only himself, but those around him.
Ultimately, the lesson in this film is one of perspective. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a heartfelt reminder that even flawed adults can be role models and the minds of the youth are worth inhabiting.
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