Shoes, Self-Help & Catfights: What Women Want In Movies

Illustration for article titled Shoes, Self-Help  Catfights: What Women Want In Movies

This was the year, we're told, that Hollywood started making movies for women... as long as they were totally inane. And next year, as Self-Help Cinema launches, they'll be even more vapid!

The cinematic events which apparently heralded this sea change were Sex and the City: the Movie, Twilight, and Mamma Mia. In other words, women had promiscuous sex, had sex in the city, and didn't have sex with vampires, and amidst financial turmoil and political change, we ate it up.

However, all this is positively Bergman-esque compared to 2009's distaff-themed offerings. Says the FT,

This year women will be targeted even more precisely. One sub-sub-genre to emerge is feature films adapted from self-help books, notably French Women Don't Get Fat, which instructs women they can stay slim while still scoffing the air in the ├ęclair choux pastry, and He's Just Not that Into You , which proffers advice such as that if a man runs away from a woman he is not in love with her.

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The article quotes one feminist's dismayed response to this trend: "Self-help books send out the message women need to improve themselves instead of being happy with who they are." Well, that seems a tad unfair. For one thing, as self-help books go, these two are fairly common-sensical: both were remarkably short of psychco-babble and long on clearing up misconceptions, albeit obvious ones. There's a reason these books were such runaway bestsellers that they caught Hollywood's roving eye, and it's more than just numbers. Self-help offends people by its lack of artifice, its vulgarity, but chick lit and women's fiction hews to a similar formula of control-wresting and triumph. After all, a film like Sex and the City or Mamma Mia is no more virtuous for wrapping its self-help cliche's in shoes and ABBA; the self-help films will simply make no bones about it. The irony is, the end result will probably not be too different from what Hollywood's already turning out.

However, it will be interesting to note whether the stigmas of self-help carry over to its cinemazation. After all, a woman who can justify seeing Sex and the City for a laugh or Twilight in the name of cultural anthropology - no small class of women, I'd wager - might have a harder time pulling the trigger for French Women Don't Get Fat in widescreen. We like to be silly, not to feel stupid. Whether or not one finds the self-help film trend dismaying in itself, one can't deny that the "woman/smart " divide is being made nakedly stark. In removing all the artifice from what have essentially been self-help movies all along, Hollywood's ironically respecting our intelligence. And I wonder if that might not, also ironically, result in a backlash of denial - not the kind of escapism anyone wants.

Year of Women [FT]

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This kind of thing annoys me. Not because I have anything against fun, light, silly movies. It is an entertainment medium. However, especially in film these days, you rarely to get see women as anything other than hideous types. We're vapid, marriage obsessed, looks obsessed, shoe buying, one dimensional cyphers. At a certain point there's just nothing fun about it. Hell, movies about women are very rarely actually from a female perspective...or if it is, it's a woman who views herself via the men in the story.

Mamma Mia may be a fun movie...but I just watched Out of Africa this weekend and watched The Hours before that, and it's just sad to me how rare those kinds of films are. How are we get to see women being something other than caricatures of what people think women are like...you know, women as human beings.

The reality is, though, most movies are written and directed by men. And it's rare to find a male writer or director who can accurately get a female experience across, or has any interest in telling a story from that perspective to begin with.

And really, it all comes down to othering. The While, Hetero, Male perspective is STILL considering some kind of "neutral" storytelling perspective...when it clearly isn't. Yet stories about women are still seen as -for- women as opposed to for people. It's frustrating.