10 August 2011

Show Me Where It Hurts

Reading: Barbara Ehrenreich, "Nickel and Dimed, Ten Years Later."

I've been watching a string of movies featuring female protagonists in bleak situations lately. In Wendy and Lucy, Michelle Williams gets stranded in a small town when her car breaks down. She subsequently loses her dog, gets arrested, and can't find a way home. Actually she doesn't even have a home, so she's on the go and perpetually stuck in the same place. The movie is slow as molasses and not something I'd recommend for a Friday night laugh fest, but it was poignant and touching.

Then I watched Fish Tank, starring Katie Jarvis, who was discovered by a casting scout as she argued with her boyfriend at a train station. She's untrained but absolutely riveting throughout. It'll be interesting to see where her career goes from here. Fish Tank also featured a few of my favorite things: Cockney accents, Michael Fassbender, and a hip hop soundtrack. There's a final scene set to Nas' "Life's a Bitch" that I can assure you has never been done before. Jarvis' character is an aspiring dancer and she's got exquisite taste in rap. Her solo practices are set to Rakim and Gangstarr, among others. I almost wanted to do a full on dance movie review on Fish Tank, but it's not quite that kind of movie.

Finally, I saw Winter's Bone, nominated last year for a number of Oscars, including Best Picture. It's like Goodfellas set in the hard scrabble countryside, but from the perspective of Meadow Soprano. The genre is "country noir" apparently, and it was the most complete film of the lot. Jennifer Lawrence is going to make an amazing Katniss, if the script for Hunger Games gives her anything to work with. Lawrence has ridiculous intensity emanating from her eyes. I understand what the fuss is all about, she's amazing.

Themes that ran through all three: emotional desolation, forging ahead against all odds, surviving with little to no support, shitty parents, multi-layered main characters, quiet pacing, resourcefulness, strong female leads who don't talk much but radiate intelligence and determination. The following quote from The Feminist Spectator could also equally apply:

"Wendy and Lucy's script is never predictable and never sentimental. The film doesn't ask the spectator to pity the characters, but to see them instead as human beings struggling with whatever limited means they can muster, each in his or her own way. The world Wendy and Lucy paints isn't easy or kind -- it's lonely, hard, and sad, with little to remediate the economic blight and emotional benightedness the film depicts unremittingly."
All three films were directed by women and in the case of Wendy and Lucy and Winter's Bone, screenwritten by the director also. Kelly Reichardt, Andrea Arnold, and Debra Granik will be names I keep an eye on as they've created movies that are not only powerfully feminist but so much more nuanced in their portrayal of young women than anything you'd typically find. Unsurprisingly, none of these movies were in theaters for longer than two seconds. If you're looking for a female lead movie trifecta, these three aren't a bad way to go.