Looking through lists of mainstream films from the past year or so, there are examples of gutsy women, such as WONDER WOMAN and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. Then there is a film such as LADY BIRD, Greta Gerwig’s triumphant debut as a writer/director, which shows women at their most vulnerable. I think LADY BIRD has had a positive influence on popular American filmmaking. That’s because a few recent films that focus on women’s difficulties are not dealing with stale melodramatic plots such as battles with fatal diseases or painful romantic break-ups that cause depression; instead, they are dealing with the personality quirks that the pressures of our society may cause and the psychological damage that can result from even the so-called ordinary or conventional events in women’s lives.
Recently, three such movies moved from theaters to home screens. TULLY stars Charlize Theron as Marlo, a loving wife and mother of two who has just added a third baby to the family. The unexpected bundle of joy makes her lifestyle even more demanding and taxing than it had been before the birth. However, with the help of a brilliant young nanny—an apparent gift from the heavens!-- she makes it through the difficult first few months. After that, Marlo’s life starts to spiral way beyond its norms. TULLY is a comedy/drama from Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, the creative filmmakers who brought JUNO to the screen more than a decade ago. While TULLY gets high ratings as an entertainment, it also deals with a very serious mental health disorder that strikes many new mothers-- postpartum depression. And unlike other films dealing with women’s illnesses, it is not a melodrama. I highly recommend seeing TULLY. Just like LADY BIRD, it’s the product of a talented group of creative artists.
I FEEL PRETTY is the most recent Amy Schumer vehicle to come to home screens. While it isn’t in the class of TULLY, it’s a fun comedy with an important message about a widespread women’s issue. Schumer plays an average-looking, slightly overweight woman. She has brains and spunk, but she has little self-confidence. Society has instructed her to believe her pleasant looks lack the beauty of the high fashion models she sees in magazines and on the runway. One day she hits her head hard and awakens thinking she has that kind of perfect beauty. Under that false apprehension, she becomes a woman who can find romance and successfully take on the world. Many who have seen I FEEL PRETTY give it a low rating, but I really enjoyed Schumer’s performance and the offbeat flight of fancy it offers.
Another lesser film recently released to home video is ON CHESIL BEACH, another example of how societal pressures on women can ruin lives. The year is 1962, and society has instructed a young woman from a cultured family that sex—even physical intimacy in marriage,-- is abhorrent. While the film is based on a novel by best-selling author and Man Booker Prize-winner Ian McEwan, and while it stars popular movie star Saoirise Ronan, ON CHESIL BEACH has failed to dazzle many critics or audience members. Still, it deals with an issue often not spoken about that affected many women mid-Twentieth Century, and most probably continues today.
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former Director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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