Monday, December 31, 2007

Monday Movie Review: Two Movies About Women

This week, I saw two movies that satisfy Bechdel's Rule. It is remarkable to see women who seem real in the movies, and then again remarkable that it is so remarkable, if you know what I mean. The movies are a true-life drama (A Mighty Heart) and a ditzy, sexy romantic comedy (The Truth About Cats & Dogs). They share a deep feminist sensibility without ever doing that "I'm talking about feminism" thing (see: Something's Gotta Give).

A Mighty Heart (2007) 8/10
When Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) is kidnapped in Pakistan, his wife Marianne (Angelina Jolie) and his colleague Asra Nomani (Archie Panjabi) work with the authorities to try to find and rescue him.

Asra Nomani has written that she is unhappy with the way A Mighty Heart is not about Danny Pearl; she felt betrayed by that. But the movie feels to me like it isn't meant to be about Danny, who is, after all, off-stage for the drama being shown. Indeed, his story might be told, and told beautifully, but this is a different story.

I struggled with the chaos of the movie; a legitimate portrayal of what it felt like to be in that situation, or needlessly chaotic film techniques?

But in the center of the chaos are two remarkable women, and as I watched, I was struck by how not-movie these women were; they seemed like women I might know. They were smart, thoughtful, aggressive, angry, needy, analytical, focused, and compassionate. They were simply human. They were never "the women" cast in a movie to add a little color and costume and tits. There was nothing cliché about them. This was particularly striking for Marianne Pearl, who was never reduced to "the wife," or "the pregnant wife," and with that growing belly, that had to be a challenge to the filmmakers. Because yes, she was a pregnant wife, but also a journalist and, well, a human being.

And again, I reflected that this shouldn't be so striking. That human women shouldn't be such an oddity.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs (1996) 8/10
Dr. Abby Barnes (Janeane Garofalo) is a veterinarian with a pet advice radio show. When an attractive caller (Ben Chaplin) wants to meet her, she convinces him that she looks like her gorgeous neighbor Noelle (Uma Thurman). Complications ensue.

People kept telling me to see this movie, but the identity-switch plot made me cringe. I finally broke down, and yeah, there's a couple of cringes, but it's somehow nothing like the description sounds. First, because the self-consciousness of the cringey switch is a reflection of Abby's own self-consciousness. Second, because there's a crucial scene on the phone between Abby and Brian (Chaplin) that is so warm and lovely that it legitimizes the ensuing shenanigans, and finally, because the friendship that develops between Noelle and Abby as they weave their ridiculous lies is lovely and rare.

Seriously. Two women thrown together. Attracted to the same man. And...choosing friendship as a priority? Did you see that coming? And not necessarily, y'know, being martyrs, but recognizing the value of it. Considering it. Exactly as if they were human.

Because they are. Human women. In a script, get this, written by a woman. That includes female masturbation (and someday soon I'm writing a whole post on that subject).

Seeing these movies made me a little sadder about movies in general, because I shouldn't be writing this post. It shouldn't be, hey I saw movies in which women were actually friends. And human. And thoughtful. Two of them! Made only eleven years apart!

(A Mighty Cross-post About Cats & Dogs)