To celebrate International Women’s Day, Badger contributor Jack Stockdale recaps some of her favourite female characters in films in the last five years.
Winter’s Bone, dir. Debra Granik
Set in a remote part of the Ozarks, 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) seeks out her estranged father who has disappeared having used her family home as collateral to secure bail before trial. Walking from house to house across barren, cold terrain, Ree is met with what seems like a coordinated hostility from family and friends alike as she pieces together the whereabouts of her father. With the grim tenacity and maturity of someone who’s had to make their own way in the world, Ree is an accidental heroine out of necessity. As she forges on with her journey, urgency turns to tension, turns to fear, but this doesn’t stop her ignoring the advice to quit her search. Her unwavering resilience is the product of a strong moral compass and sense of duty towards her mentally-ill mother and younger brother and sister. At the same time, Granik refuses to let us draw the conclusion that these traits are only useful within Ree’s isolated community. While visiting an army recruitment fair, Granik draws us into connecting Ree’s intelligence with the potentiality of a successful career, while simultaneously showing that her acute desperation and need thwarts her of the opportunity.
The Maid, dir. Sebastián Silva
In this gripping thriller, Catalina Saavedra plays Raquel, a live-in maid working for an established family in Santiago, Chile. From the outset Raquel occupies an awkward place in the family, that is, always there but not always noticed. Inevitably, the strangeness of her situation leads Raquel to manifest inexplicable passive aggressive hostilities such as fainting spells and bad temperedness. Soon after, with good if not misguided intentions, her employers hire a second maid to assist with the household. What ensues though is the silent declaration of all-out war that Raquel begins in a fit of mysterious jealous rage. Silva is smart to leave Raquel’s behaviour up to interpretation. The choice to stay away from the ‘An Inspector Calls’ type storyline featuring negligent and oblivious employers, suggests that Raquel’s behaviour is more likely a product of structural exploitation, while Saavedra’s nuanced and frightful performance heightens this narrative at every step.
Blue Jasmine, dir. Woody Allen
Forced to come to terms with her husband’s imprisonment, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a self-absorbed New York socialite, moves in with her sister to share her drastically conventional life in San Francisco. In an effort to make the best of the situation, she ploughs herself into a range of bad choices concerning employment, education and relationships, all with the neurotic zeal of a woman suffering a midlife crisis. Using flashbacks, Allen traces this mania back to the wilful ignorance of her extravagant former life, complimented by her dismissive attitude to anyone below her social status. Blanchett’s performance is intense, dramatic and exhausting. However, the rest of the cast is far more than background colour. Sally Hawkins brings a dynamism to the narrative in playing the easy going but struggling sister, preventing either character from becoming a two-dimensional stereotype. Blue Jasmine may be an unrelenting, depressing satire, but that doesn’t stop it from also being a complex account of the female spirit. Especially if it’s for an event where forgetting about yourself is mandatory, as well as emptying the contents of your purse, all in the aid of organised once-in-a-life-time fun.
Bridesmaids, dir. Paul Feig
Turning all the familiar trappings of the chick-flick on its head, Bridesmaids boasts an ensemble cast led by spectacularly funny Kristen Wiig. Somewhere in her 30’s, Annie (Wiig) finds herself with a failed business, demeaning ‘no-strings’ relationship and knee deep in the bridesmaid politics of her best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding. Rolling from one embarrassment to the next, Annie finds herself pitted against Lillian’s other, newer, more sophisticated friend, Helen (Rose Byrne). Each character tries to outdo the other for the place of Lillian’s most capable and worthy maid of honour. Although this film essentially plays off comedy stereotypes, there is something in its portrayal of that fraught feeling of inadequacy when a large group of old friends come together. Especially if it’s for an event where forgetting about yourself is mandatory, as well as emptying the contents of your purse, all in the aid of organised once-in-a-life-time fun.
Under the Skin, dir. Jonathan Glazer
Starring as a nameless alien serial-killer in human form, Scarlett Johansson travels Scotland in a transit van picking up unassuming men. Maintaining a blank stare and stoic demeanour, her interactions with potential victims is kept short but not without interpersonal skill. While cruising around Glasgow, we see a brief animation in her face as she stops passers-by on the pretext of needing directions. Duped by her sexual appeal, victims are invited into the car and then to a dilapidated house where they are drawn to their death. Despite the sparse dialogue and narrative, the crux of this slick horror is the reversal of gender dynamics. Glazer puts us in the position of Johansson, coolly regarding the unwitting men walking the streets outside the van. At every step we are invited to take up the alien perspective, until finally after so much emotionless horror, we see the beginnings of empathetic feeling when Johansson is driven to let one of her victims go. As the film continues, Johansson steadily begins to experiment in embodying her humanity and the position of a human female, but Glazer is quick to show that this transforms her position from hunter to hunted.