AWFJ Women On Film – The Week in Women, September 11, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Someone else notices that movies are hardly even about women as people. Plus: It’s okay if girls make movies, as long as we can talk about their bodies and their clothes at film festivals.


for years, but maybe people will listen if it’s Katha Pollitt saying it. From The Nation via Alternet:

What I loved most of all, though, was that Julie & Juliais that very rare thing, a movie centered on adult women, and that even rarer thing, a movie about women’s struggle to express their gifts through work. Not a boyfriend, a fabulous wedding, a baby, a gay best friend, a better marriage, escape from a serial killer, the perfect work-family balance, another baby. Real life is full

of women for whom work is at the center, who crave creative challenge, who are miserable until they find a way to make a mark on the world. But in the movies, women with big ambitions tend to be Prada-wearing devils or uptight thirtysomethings who relax when they find a slacker boyfriend or inherit an adorable orphan. Among recent films, Seraphine, Martin Provost’s biopic about an

early-twentieth-century French cleaning woman and self-taught painter, is practically unique in its curiosity about a woman’s creative drive. More usually, a woman’s cinematic function is to forward, thwart, complicate or decorate the story of a man. As Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s elusive girlfriend in (500) Days of Summer, Zooey Deschanel has all the external trappings of individuality — aloofness, a sly smile, vintage clothes and indie tastes — but she has no more inner life than

Petrarch’s Laura. She’s there to break the hero’s heart and rekindle his ambitions. What will she become? Someone else’s wife.


OH NO, THEY LET GIRLS MAKE A MOVIE! When I saw the headline at Cinematical — “Will Chicks Dig ‘Jennifer’s Body’?” — I figured such a question could only be posed by a man. But no: it’s Jenni Miller. (Since men rarely — if ever — take female pseudonyms, I think I’m safe in assuming Miller is female.) And she says:

Jennifer’s Body is a unique beast because it was written and directed by women, with Cody behind the script and Girlfight’s Karyn Kusama directing. Cody is also the executive producer.

True. And yet no one ever, ever worries that a movie written and directed by men might not appeal to one gender in particular. Once again, gender issues are only issues when

it’s women doing something.

The question is, ladies and gents, do you think Cody and Kusama can pull this off? Is the male-targeted marketing going to turn off any women who might otherwise be tempted to see it?

Why should women like the movie, anyway? I mean, it’s fine if women do, but why fret particularly that a movie written and directed by women might appeal to predominantly male audience? No one asks if romantic comedies aimed at women but created by men are a problem.

OH, FOR FUCK’S SAKE. Did Michael Cieply really have to start his New York Times ode to women filmmakers at Toronto like this:

FROM the tattoo on Diablo Cody’s bicep to Lone Scherfig’s leopard-spot pumps, it was impossible not to notice: The 34th Toronto International Film Festival opened on Thursday with the women in charge.

I look forward to Cieply’s commentary on Joel Coen’s footwear and Todd Solondz’s body.

THE TEMERITY TO GROW OLD… Elizabeth Day at the Guardian gets it, at least, in her piece on icons Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot turning 75 this year:

we do not expect our sex symbols to age. We want them to remain youthful and pouting at their most delectable, like insects in amber. If they do have the temerity to grow older, we expect them to be like Loren and segue seamlessly from sexpot youthfulness to granny glamour. We find it more

difficult to fathom when, like Bardot, they choose to retire from public life, set up an animal welfare foundation and refuse to care about the creeping onset of their decrepitude.

“Brigitte Bardot has bowed out of the limelight, has refused plastic surgery and hasn’t tried to maintain her looks,” says Nothdurft. “That’s quite refreshing because it’s realistic. It is ageing

on her own terms, not buying into the system, whereas Sophia Loren has completely embraced the idea of being attractive and sexual as an older woman, and she looks fantastic.”

Clearly, everyone else doesn’t get it:

Winner puts it more succinctly: “Sophia is a great professional. She keeps working and she knows that, because of that, you’d better keep looking lovely. Brigitte Bardot is into saving cats. You don’t need to look beautiful to pick up stray cats.”

But thank god for Day:

It is a simple point but a crucial one. Loren and Bardot might be the same age and come from similar backgrounds, but they have grown into two different women who have chosen two different lives and who feel no need to explain themselves. At 75, they are making their own rules. And that,

perhaps, is the most iconic thing about them both.

OPENING THIS WEEK. Whiteout is dumb, pointless, unscary, and ridiculous. But it also features a female protagonist — in Kate Beckinsale’s Carrie Stetko — who’s also about the worst movie cop ever. I’m not sure that’s progress… Or there’s Sorority

Row, in which women get offed by a masked slasher, but at least they deserve it, for having killed one of their own sisters… Or there’s Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself, in which the one role that could have gone to an older black actress is instead played by Perry

himself in drag. Maybe he simply couldn’t find a woman willing to demean herself enough to play Madea…

See the AWFJ’s regular weekly rundown of all the new releases here.

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).