By Nadia Dalimonte
Women in Film: 2015
Written on February 18, 2016
2015 has seen interesting, strong, well written female characters in film. Strong characters are those not just of physical strength, but also of vulnerability and weakness. Women can be everything at once. Messy. Human. Heroic. Unlikeable. The film industry still has a long way to go in totally embracing women and in providing roles of high calibers to all women. Let’s take a look at the kind of caliber that everyone should have access to…
Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in Mad Max: Fury Road
Need I say more?
Rey (Daisy Ridley) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
IN LOVE. Rey doesn’t need to be saved. She doesn’t need a man to hold her hand. She doesn’t get a forced romantic subplot. She’s a fighter. She has strong character development. She’s a heroine that young girls AND boys can look up to.
Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) in Brooklyn
A stunning depiction of character development. We’re introduced to her when she’s inexperienced, homesick, out of her comfort zone. By the end of the movie, she’s a woman defined by her experiences. She has the inner strength to make a decision based on herself, not just on a man. She thinks for herself, she contemplates the kind of life that she wants to have.
Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett) in Carol
Two of the most complex characters on screen this year. Rooney’s character brings up interesting points about struggling to be your own person and to stand up for yourself rather than say yes to everything.
Ma (Brie Larson) in Room
A good example when discussing what makes a female character strong. It’s not just about physical strength. Brie’s character is both extremely fragile and determined.
Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) in The Dressmaker
Kate’s character is a sexy, funny, fragile femme fatale. Now, we’ve seen the older man coupled with the very young woman countless times in movies. The Dressmaker changes that formula. Not only does Kate’s character have a younger male love interest (Liam Hemsworth), but the movie doesn’t turn it into a “thing” that people feel compelled to comment on. It’s simply depicted as it is. Their age gap never becomes a talking point in the movie.
Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) in A Little Chaos
Kate plays a female landscape gardner in 17th century France. That position for a woman during that time period was unheard of. Screenwriter Alison Deegan wrote her into what was striclty a male-dominated world.
Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) in Steve Jobs
A rich supporting role that isn’t “the wife” or “the girlfriend”. Joanna is strong willed and not afraid to speak her mind. Kate’s filmography is a beautiful source of ballsy, interesting female roles.
Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) in Love & Mercy
Much like Kate’s character in Steve Jobs, Elizabeth’s character in Love & Mercy displays the rarely seen dynamic on film of a man who needs a woman more than a woman needs a man. Melinda is a woman who stands her ground. We also get to see her true story come to life on screen.
Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) in Joy
An inventor. An entrepreneur. A businesswoman. A mother. Joy has big dreams and doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t fulfill them.
Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) in Far From the Madding Crowd
From the start of the story, she makes it clear that she’s not looking for a husband and that she’s capable of being on her own.
Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) in Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation
I loved seeing this character hold her own alongside Tom Cruise. She’s so unpredictable and complex, rustled by a tension to get through a tricky situation. She operates in a grey area. She wasn’t just arm/eye candy.
Ricki (Meryl Streep) in Ricki and the Flash
This is one of many female perspectives we don’t often see in movies. A mother chooses to leave her children and husband behind to pursue her rock’n’roll dream. She’s not painted as strictly a saint, but she’s not painted as strictly a villain either.
Amy (Amy Schumer) in Trainwreck
The movie is refreshingly told from an unapologetic female perspective. She’s not made out to to be some “perfect” specimen who wakes up in the morning with a face full of “perfect” makeup. She’s an interesting character with room to grow. This is Amy’s star-making role. She’s awesome.
Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) in Testament of Youth
We get to see a reimagined history behind a woman’s extraordinary true story.
Ava (Alicia Vikander) in Ex-Machina
Interesting take on the character of a robot. She makes you question whether her emotions are real or stimulated.
Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) in Woman in Gold
A fascinating story about a woman holding onto her past and ensuring that her family’s legacy is not left in the wrong hands.
Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) in Spy
Who doesn’t want to see Melissa carry a movie? She’s super talented. The whole movie pulsates with girl power. We have a female agent, a female villain (Rose Byrne), a female running the CIA (Allison Janney), and a female friend (Miranda Hart) who doesn’t just offer advice from the sidelines but also gets in on the action.
Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) in Spotlight
A supporting role that isn’t “the girlfriend” or “the wife” or the person whose only purpose is to serve a plot point. Sacha is a woman of journalistic integrity who goes after what she wants to tell a story. She’s truly part of the Spotlight team.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) and Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) in Crimson Peak
They took on gothic romance. I loved that their characters were like classic throwbacks to movies of the 40s and 50s that featured mysterious, intriguing female characters. These are not one-note villains and one-note romantic leads.
Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) and Valentine (Kristen Stewart) in Clouds of Sils Maria
A dynamic between two women that doesn’t revolve around catty behaviour or discussing men.
Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) in Dope
Her character wasn’t given enough to do in the movie. It was nice to see her brief depiction of individuality and friendship.
Kate (Emily Blunt) in Sicario
An intelligent example of a character whose gun is not what makes her “badass”. It’s her willingness to uncover truth that showcases her strength.
Jules (Anne Hathaway) in The Intern
A working mother who is actually allowed to have a job, to thrive in doing what she loves, and also be a mother. Her husband is a stay-at-home dad. The movie expertly provides no lead-up to the moment when her daughter and husband do appear. We’re meant to accept their lifestyle as it is.
Brooke (Greta Gerwig) and Tracy (Lola Kirke) in Mistress America
From strangers to sisters. The generational gap between the characters makes for a fascinating and relatable dynamic. This is a story about people trying to achieve something, trying to make sense of what they’re aiming for.
Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) in Creed
Again, both characters weren’t given enough to do. Thompson has the “love interest” role, which is more developed here than it usually is in movies, but she mostly disappears by the second half of the movie. Rashad has the more interesting role of the two, Mary Anne Creed. Mary found Adonins, took him in and raised him, even though he was the son of the woman her late husband had an affair with. But before she has time to make a bigger impact, Adonis is on his way to Philly. She also mostly disappears in the second half of the movie. I wish the movie were longer so that these two talented actresses had more time to relish in more character development.
Kate (Charlotte Rampling) in 45 Years
We’ve seen a stock version of this character countless times in the background of movies. The long suffering wife with a burden to carry. Refreshingly, the entire movie focuses on Kate coming to terms with her husband holding onto his love for another woman.
Elle (Lily Tomlin) in Grandma
Hysterical and heartfelt. Let this be a note to Hollywood. Older women are STILL INTERESTING. Everyone has a story.
The bevy of talent both in Pitch Perfect 2 and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The fact that both movies are sequels speaks volumes. People want to see women’s stories on screen. I also love that both movies show opposed sides of the age spectrum. Aging does not make you less interesting.
Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) in Miss You Already
Both portray two life-long friends who are dealt with a major life change. It’s great to see a movie focused on a healthy female friendship.
The women in Youth
Lena (Rachel Weisz) and Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda) in particular have the showiest roles. Lena is coming to terms with a breakup, but that’s not all she focuses on. That doesn’t become her life. She carries on, being there for her father (Michael Caine) and finding new love. Brenda is a veteran actress brought in for a possible movie directed by Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). She has one scene in the movie, but it provides glimpses of a point of view we don’t hear from enough: that of the older actress.
The unfortunate aspect about the aforementioned list is that it does not reflect progress for women across the board. The list is based on movies I’ve seen, and what I’ve seen is severely lacking in female roles for women of colour, for women of different minorities, and not just any roles. Roles that match the caliber of the ones I mentioned above. The Hollywood Reporter’s recently released cover story on this year’s female Oscar contenders just goes to show that there aren’t enough opportunities being given across the board. The problem is not just that there were no contenders to choose from this year. The problem is that not enough opportunities for women of colour were given for them to even become contenders in the first place. They need opportunities.
Tangerine, Macbeth, Truth, and Freeheld are on my to-see list; all include what look to be interesting female characters. I also must mention Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but Katniss has been a game changer since the first Hunger Games, taking part in paving the way for a rise of successful female-led blockbusters such as Divergent and Insurgent. Also, while Kenneth Branagh’s version of Cinderella doesn’t offer much of a refreshing take on a tale that’s been told many times before, another female-led blockbuster success story is certainly welcome in the industry.
Be on the lookout for more female roles. In addition to there being movies I still want to see, there are probably a lot more I’m not even aware of. When you see that a female-led movie is out, even if you’re not interested in the movie, please support it. The movie business speaks with money. Unfortunately, if people aren’t paying to see these movies, fewer of them will get made.