The Stepfordization of Hollywood's Comely Comediennes

Recently I got my paws on the as-yet-unreleased Anna Faris stoner flick Smiley Face. When I heard that a woman was finally at the helm of a non-romantic comedy, I couldn't wait to see it: Half Baked but with a lady? Sign me up! It led to a discussion amongst my friends about the dearth of leading ladies in comedy these days. The last female-centric comedy we could come up with was the Christina Applegate/Cameron Diaz vehicle The Sweetest Thing, which came out in 2002.

In yesterday's Los Angeles Times, the awesome Carina Chocano laments the lack of decent female characters in recent comedies and searches for an answer to the issue. "The idea that a girl might play anything other than 'the girl' in a studio comedy is so far out of the mainstream that it's considered an experimental concept, not to mention a major financial risk," Chocano notes. And even more upsetting, she says: "'The girl' and 'the hot girl' have merged to produce a gorgeous, well-meaning, inoffensive love-object devoid of any motivating purpose and quite possibly manufactured in Stepford."

Chocano uses Jezebel obsession Lars and the Real Girl as a major example in her essay. She argues:

"culture has been gerrymandered, labeling as 'male' all movies that don't pander specifically to subjects only women are presumed to care about...The 'likability' of the male hero has become such an imperative in American comedies — even in small, woman-written ones such as 'Lars' — that a movie will sooner make a nice guy out of a dude in love with an anatomically correct Barbie than give us a girl's point of view.
So is it all about making money for the studios? Why are we, as a culture, backing away from the concept of an empowered, amusing woman as the star of a narrative? Chocano mentions Susan Faludi's Terror Dream thesis about the return to traditional gender roles in the post-9/11 landscape, but that explanation rings false to me. A more plausible reason is, as a women in Hollywood panel recently discussed , women aren't going into producing and directing, so the pro-female pictures aren't getting made. The panel also discussed the deeply rooted sexism in the film industry, which certainly doesn't help matters.

All of which brings me back to Smiley Face. Admittedly it's not the best movie I've ever seen, but Anna Faris's baked-out-of-her-mind facial expressions are worth the price of admission alone. (Though perhaps Faris is not the best lady-in-comedy role model to begin with: she's made her name playing
ditsy blonds and is gearing up to play a a Playboy bunny and a a porn star, but I digress).

Anyway! Back to Smiley Face, which was independently financed, has yet to find a distributor and has only been shown at film festivals (and since the DVD appears to be available in January , it might never get released on the big screen). When I think about my favorite lady comedy moment of the past 15 years, it was in the uber indie Parker Posey movie Party Girl. If the major studios aren't going to finance female driven comedies, writers and directors should look elsewhere for the dough. Any studio comedy with a female protagonist would probably be about recipes and kittens anyway, though I have high hopes for the Amy Poehler/Rachel Dratch/Posey Warner Brothers movie, Spring Breakdown. What forthcoming lady comedies do you have high hopes for?

Film Comedies No Laughing Matter for Actresses [Los Angeles Times]