Patty Jenkins’ ‘Wonder Woman’ and Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’ make history for female filmmakers

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Gal Gadot stars in "Wonder Woman." Warner Bros. photo

Gal Gadot stars in “Wonder Woman.” Warner Bros. photo

Between Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman and Sofia Coppola’ The Beguiled, the past two weeks have been historic for female filmmakers – and encouraging for women who love and follow the movies.

Patty Jenkins’ long-awaited second feature film, “Wonder Woman” earned an estimated $100.5 million for its opening in North America this weekend, according to CNN.

That makes the superhero film starring Gal Gadot the biggest opening ever for a female director. The previous record holder, director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “Fifty Shades of Grey,” brought in $85.2 million in 2015.

More than half, 52 percent, of the film’s audience this weekend were female — a significant number for a genre that has been dominated by men, CNN notes.

The box office haul for the female superhero icon is smaller than the box office numbers of some of her caped male counterparts. But the opening weekend for “Wonder Woman” is an achievement for female filmmakers and for the industry, says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.

“Any ridiculous notion that a woman may not be suited to direct a big budget superhero movie is hopefully once and for all shattered,” he said, according to CNN.

As I noted in my “Wonder Woman” review, it’s been 76 years since the fearless Amazon princess made her bow in DC Comics, and the character is just making her feature film debut. Marvel Studios’ “Iron Man” ushered in the current golden age of comic-book movies nine years ago, and “Wonder Woman” is the first to showcase a female lead. The last female superhero vehicle to charge into cinemas was the dismal “Elektra” in 2005, which incidentally debuted two years after Jenkins’ last feature, “Monster,” which only won Charlize Theron an Oscar.

So, for women who love movies, especially movies made by women and about women, the stakes for “Wonder Woman” were high. History teaches us that movies about women and made by women aren’t allowed to fail.

Happily, Diana Prince’s film debut clears those high stakes with the same impressive ease that the sword-and-shield-wielding superhero leaps tall towers. “Wonder Woman” isn’t just the best DC Comics movie to date, it also handily beats out most of Marvel Studios’ entries. Under Jenkins’ direction, “Wonder Woman” offers the requisite rousing fight sequences, clever quips and even the rare comic-book movie romance that actually gets sparks flying. But it also manages to inspire on more than one occasion.

Dergarabedian noted for CNN that several factors contributed to the strong weekend performance, including a great release date, perfect casting and widespread acclaim.

The film, which had a production budget of $150 million, garnered an “A” CinemaScore from audiences and a 93 percent “Fresh” score on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, which makes it one of the best-reviewed superhero movies of all time.

“Wonder Woman” also acted as a shot in the arm to Warner Bros.’ critically beleaguered DC superhero brand — which includes three critically panned but somewhat financially successful blockbusters, 2013′s “Man of Steel,” 2016′s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and 2016′s “Suicide Squad” — as well as a sluggish summer movie season that was down nearly 9% from last year going into the weekend.

As I noted in my review, Gadot, who electrified in her small role in the otherwise dreary “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” proves she has the power to carry not just an entire film but a franchise. The martial artist and actor, who served in the Israeli Defense Forces, not only thrills when she boldly wades into battle, but she also perfectly plays the character’s fish-out-of-water naivete about humans, whether Diana is delighting in her first ice cream cone or grieving over mankind’s nastier shortcomings.

The stellar supporting cast – which features a good share of meaty roles for more women warriors – gamely plays its parts, but Gadot provides enough wonder to lift the movie and haul it through when the third act threatens to bog down in gloomy DC movie mode.

From left, Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and director Patty Jenkins work on "Wonder Woman." Warner Bros. photo

From left, Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and director Patty Jenkins work on “Wonder Woman.” Warner Bros. photo

‘Wonder’-ful privilege and pressure

Gadot told EW.com that Wonder Woman is a household name she can’t remember never knowing. She said it was a privilege to play the most famous female superhero.

“You could say that I felt some pressure. I feel very privileged that I got the opportunity to portray such an iconic, strong female character. I adore this character and everything that she stands for and everything that she symbolizes. But of course this character is so big and iconic, and the expectations that all of the fans have for it are huge. Hopefully after they watch the movie they’ll be pleased,” Gadot said.

“I try not to think about being a role model; I try to be the best version of myself, period. For myself and for my daughter and for my family, friends. But I do love everything that Wonder Woman represents. She stands for love and compassion and acceptance and truth, and I think that those values are so important, especially nowadays with everything that’s going on in the world. I do believe that if each and every one of us had a little bit of Wonder Woman’s values, the world would be a better place.”

Jenkins, who has directed episodes of TV series from “Arrested Development” to “The Killing” since her feature film debut “Monster,” told Rolling Stone she wanted to make a good, old-fashioned action-adventure with warmth, humor and romance after lobbying for years to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen.

“I had assumed it would be a much more jaded reception … particularly in a world where there were questions: Do people want to see her? I always thought, Of course people want to see her! It’s awesome that that’s true,” she told Rolling Stone.

“I love a great myth. I love a superhero origin story. I had been profoundly touched by ‘Superman’ when I was a kid; it had this special place in my heart. The idea that you could both make a tentpole movie that’s being totally supported [by the studio] but also make something uplifting and magical and personal – just a single character’s arc – was exciting to me. And I love Wonder Woman. I couldn’t believe that nobody had done a Wonder Woman movie yet. It just seemed like the most obvious thing in the world to do.”

Jenkins said she has been profoundly affected by the way working on Wonder Woman has moved her own son.

“In the way ‘Superman’ affected my life, I don’t know how different it would have been if it was someone I identified with even more. I have an eight-year-old son. Watching his attitude shift from being a kid who’s stuck in all the classic “I-can’t-wear- that-shirt, it’s-too-girly” to needing every incarnation of the Wonder Woman doll and saying, “I have to have her to fight in the battle, I’ve got to have Wonder Woman” … it’s hard not to get emotional. He’s going to grow up thinking that, of course, some of the women you know are going to be princesses. And some of them are going to be princesses who fight side by side with you in battle.”

Interestingly, Jenkins told Rolling Stone she was more cognizant of the pressure to make the PG-13-rated movie appropriate for little girls who would be watching than of the pressure to make a successful big-budget comic-book movie as a woman director.

“That’s one I try to tune out,” she said of the latter. “Of course, I’m aware of it. I tried to complain about [an aspect of] directing at some point a long time ago to a friend of mine who’s an actor, and he said, ‘I’ve seen every director I’ve ever worked with go through that.’ I always try to remember that. It’s not easy for anyone.”

But hopefully it will be easier for women directors to get work on high-profile, big-budget projects.

Nicole Kidman stars in Sofia Coppola's "The Beguiled." Focus Features photo

Nicole Kidman stars in Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled.” Focus Features photo

Sofia Coppola wins at Cannes

It’s the second straight weekend with historic news for women in film. Oscar-winning writer-director Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”) made Cannes Film Festival history May 28 by becoming the second woman in the event’s 70-year history to win best director for her Focus Features period drama “The Beguiled.”

Previously, Soviet director Yuliva Solntseva won for her 1961 war drama “Chronicle of Flaming Years,” about the Russian resistance to the 1941 Nazi occupation, according to Deadline Hollywood.

“I was thrilled to get this movie made and it’s such an exciting start to be honored in Cannes. I’m thankful to my great team and cast and to Focus and Universal for their support of women-driven films,” said Coppola in a statement.

Coppola wasn’t the only woman lauded this year at the Cannes Film Festival, which has often been criticized for not recognizing female filmmakers enough.

“The Beguiled” lead Nicole Kidman won a special 70th Anniversary award, while filmmaker Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here” tied for best screenplay with Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” Deadline Hollywood reports.

Still, Jane Campion remains the only woman filmmaker who has won the festival’s top prize in seven decades. Campion got her Palme d’Or back in 1993 for The Piano, and as Vulture noted, she actually had to share the honor with a man, “Farewell My Concubine” director Chen Kaige.

“Too long! Twenty-four years! And before that, there was no one. It’s insane,” Campion told Vulture.

And Campion will keep the dubious honor for another year. Deadline Hollywood reports that Ruben Ostlund won the 2017 Palme d’Or with “The Square,” an art world satire that stars Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West.

But hopefully Coppola’s success at Cannes will resonate at the prestigious French festival and provide moment that will take “The Beguiled” through a success film awards season. “The Beguiled” is based on Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel “A Painted Devil” and centers on a Virginia girls boarding school that takes in a wounded Union soldier during the Civil War. It is due to open in limited theatrical release June 23.

-BAM

 

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