Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dumb cutie-pixies

I haven't yet seen Julie & Julia, but this passage from David Edelstein's review pretty much sums up my feeling about Nora Ephron's romantic comedies--and, really, romantic comedies in general:
Julie's character doesn't even track. She’s referred to as a "bitch," but all we’ve seen is the patented Ephron adorable klutz. . . . Ephron should make a film about the person she herself is (smart, acid) instead of the cutie-pixie of her dumb fantasies.
I had a version of the same complaint about Zooey Deschanel's character in (500) Days of Summer. I actually quite liked the movie, and I realize that the story is told from the male character's point of view and that Summer is meant to be somewhat inscrutable--but she wasn't a character so much as a collection of quirky habits and odd-ball interests: an indie-rock cutie-pixie, but still a cutie-pixie.

This seems standard in contemporary romantic comedies: even when the movie is focused on a female character--and how often is that, really?--she's seldom very interesting. That a female character might have an internal life is rarely suggested, and if she's assigned as many as two different motives, it's only when the movie needs those motives to conflict in obvious ways to propel the plot forward. By contrast, the male characters may be depicted as neurotics or assholes, but they're interesting neurotics or assholes.

But maybe I'm watching the wrong movies. What recent comedies have you seen that have featured smart, funny, fully-realized female characters? (Please note: "recent" = since Flavia was in high school.)

19 comments:

shari said...

I think anything by Nicole Holofcener—Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money—is worth watching. Her women characters have messed up their lives in ways particular to women, and that's what the films track.

meg said...

Is *The Princedent and the Pauper* -- better known as *Dave* -- too old?

Flavia said...

Aha! Shari, I have seen neither of those movies, although I wanted to see both--they came and left the big screen pretty fast. Will remedy that immediately.

And Meg: it's not too old. But I saw it as the late second-feature at a drive-in, and hence do not remember it.

medieval woman said...

I liked "About a Boy" - it wasn't as saccharin as some of the other Hugh Grant pics and the women charactes weren't by and large idiot pixies. But then, I'm a sucker for a sappy rom-com. I also liked "Love Actually"...

Prof. de Breeze said...

Speaking as a man who nevertheless prefers to watch movies about real, interesting women, I think The Holiday isn't too bad. Both of the female leads (played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz) are intelligent women with real internal lives, though both have emotional issues and the Kate Winslet character is a bit of a victim for the majority of the film. Even better is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (though maybe not technically a romantic comedy). The Amy Adams character definitely follows the "cutie-pixie" mold (and is meant to), but the Frances McDormand character is fully drawn and complex while remaining extremely appealing. Part of that is due to the talent of Frances McDormand, probably, but it's still worth a watch (and so says Miss Goddess, my very picky wife).

life_of_a_fool said...

my complaint with romantic comedies is a little different than yours, but I generally just don't watch them because the annoying sappy happily ever after makes me violently angry and irritating.

Evey said...

i'd say the "julia" part of "julie & julia" outclasses the "julie" part by degrees of magnitude. and it might well be just what you say. streep's julia is hilarious and complicated, which i think has more to do with the writing (as per your ephron comment) than with the acting per se, though it does show that meryl streep has taken some pretty good acting classes. maybe ephron had an easier time with an already-established figure than with the cutie-pixie.

Flavia said...

Prof dB: oh, yes! I loved Miss Pettigrew (except for the title, which is pretty awful), and you're right that McDormand is a great comic actress; didn't see The Holiday--thus, perhaps, continuing to prove the point that I watch the wrong movies. (MW, I haven't seen About a Boy, Love, Actually, Notting Hill, etc.)

And Evey: Ooh. I really have to go see it soon. Maybe part of the problem has to do with age? Perhaps older women (like Streep and McDormand) get to be more complicated than younger ones--or the actresses involved are hired because they're trusted to be interesting and complicated (which isn't the same thing as saying that younger actresses don't have those skills; just that maybe they get hired because they're cute and perky, and consequently wind up with underwritten parts).

I had similar thoughts about Julia Roberts's character in Duplicity--it seems to me that she's either become a better actor as she's aged, or has gotten vastly better/more interesting parts; I suspect more the latter. She was also really good in the non-comedy Charlie Wilson's War.

And actually, though Duplicity wasn'te really billed as a romantic comedy, I'd call it one--and a much more adult one than any I'd seen in years.

Anonymous said...

Far too old I know but

84 Charing Cross Road (once upon a time a Book Shop but alas no more)is a classic.It has books and more books and witty dialogue and history and real live letters in cursive script and nostalgia. Set during WW2 it captures and contrasts London and New York quite beautifully.

An epistolary love story of sorts and a Must See. It is on DVD.

Michele said...

Though "trisstr" is my verification word, the movie I endorse lacks trysts: try 'Reality Bites'. Winona Ryder and Janeane Garofalo smoke a lot of ciggies, sing a lot of Saturday morning cartoon tunes, and communicate by ways more weighty than a flash of doe eyes. I cherish their characters probably more now than when I saw the movie (purely out of an infatuation with Ethan Hawke) as a brace-faced teen.

Moria said...

I can't come up with any rom-coms, and I can't really come up with any mainstream money-makers from this year (J&J excepted) that even pass the Bechdel test, let alone have actually complicated female characters.

This is why I am convinced that if you want to see interesting women, you have to watch television. Give me Christina Hendricks (Mad Men, Firefly, whichever) over Amy Adams any day. Hell, give me Tina Fey over Amy Adams. Ick.

bitternsweet said...

Meanwhile, Julia Child as played by the fabulous Meryl Streep was the long-lost best girl friend I've never had and wish I could have. I ADORED her.

Michael Bérubé said...

Is Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion too ancient (1997)? Second the suggestion of Lovely and Amazing, even though it's not ROTFL funny, as R&M is. Or are. Also, from back in the Pleistocene Era, Soap Dish (1991). More recently, Juno. But this is depressing. Women-in-Hollywood is depressing enough (the thousands of movies that include maybe one female character, even innocuous movies like Pelham 123 or Zodiac), but women-in-Hollywood-comedies? And women-in-Hollywood-comedies who aren't props or pixies? Rarer than hen's teeth, I think. Moria's right -- epic Bechdel Test FAIL.

miltonista said...

A comment from Michael Bérubé--gettin' fancy, Flavia!

I had a somewhat similar reaction to a movie that was about a female character whom lots of people seemed to adore: Amélie.

Would like to hear what you think about Julie Delpy's character in Kieslowski's Blanc.

Azulao said...

I have a serious grudge against "Amelie" because it won the Oscar for best foreign film when I wanted "Lagaan" to win. ;-)

How about "The Truth About Cats & Dogs"?

Flavia said...

Moria: you're so right. Maybe writers only invest in female characters when they're going to be recurring (and when there's a greater chance that there are female writers on staff).

As for the rest of y'all: I didn't like Amélie either (too whimsical dopey-cutesy), and I haven't seen Reality Bites since high school, when its slacker ethos didn't really speak to me (though I'd be willing to see it again). Haven't seen Cats & Dogs, and I did love Romy & Michelle. Lisa Kudrow needs to get much, much more work.

Dr. Virago said...

What was that one where J. Anniston was in love with P. Rudd even though he was gay? It was based on a Wendy Wasserstein play. Anyway, I liked it.

hd said...

does _eternal sunshine of the spotless mind_ count as a comedy? i loved winslet's clementine. and i thought that the film skewers the cute/pixie plotline with kirsten dunst's character...

Renaissance Girl said...

I know it hardly counts as "recent" (I've been hanging around universities a long time and the years have started to collapse together), but I can watch _Grosse Pointe Blank_ pretty much every day, and dig Minnie Driver's character.