This has been my fifth month of A Year of Female Filmmakers:
A Girl’s Own Story (1984, written and directed by Jane Campion) – Campion’s short, filmed five years before the release of her first feature film Sweetie. It was supposed to star Nicole Kidman (who was 14 at the time) in the main role, but she dropped out of the project because of this one scene, where she was supposed to kiss a girl (anyhow, she and Campion collaborated 12 years later, when Kidman starred in The Portrait of a Lady). Even though only 27 minutes long, this is a complex coming-of-age story about three young teens growing up in the 60’s. Sexual experimentation, teenage pregnancy, sexual assault of under-aged girls – Campion manages to include it all in this mesmerising short, filmed in black and white and with extensive use of extreme close-ups that will, at times, remind you of Ingmar Bergman’s style.
Appropriate Behaviour (2014, written and directed by Desiree Akhavan) – remember that Persian girl that was in Hannah’s writing class in the last season of Girls? That’s Akhavan, the writer/director and actress of this hipster comedy/drama about a bisexual Persian Brooklynite who’s trying to rebuild her life after breaking up with her girlfriend, while also trying to find the most appropriate time to come out as a bisexual to her Muslim parents. It’s sort of a mixture of Girls, Obvious Child and Annie Hall; a must-see!
Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight (2011, written and directed by Eliza Hittman) – Hittman’s short revolves around a 17-years old Russian immigrant. It’s visually stunning, but at the same time deeply uncomfortable to watch, as it manages to portray adolescence in the most realistic way possible. It is a great short, very similar to her 2013 debut feature It Felt Like Love, and it’s available to watch here.
Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992, written and directed by Leslie Harris) – this film focuses on a life of 17 years old African-American high school junior from Brooklyn who’s one of the best students at her school, but is constantly in some sort of conflict with her teachers because of her rebellious nature and her abundant ego. She’s also dreaming of graduating early, leaving her poor neighbourhood and becoming a doctor – at least until she learns that she’s pregnant. This remains Harris’s only film to date and it is definitely one of the most underrated films I’ve seen recently. The portrayal of Chantal’s working class parents (one of which works nights and sleeps all days and vice versa, which leaves Chantal in charge of baby-sitting (and, to be honest, raising) her little brothers), who constantly argue about the money and the bills, is spot on and it is definitely something that is not shown often enough in American cinema. It is rare to come across an American film that tackles the problems of the working class families and of the racial minorities – problems that are too often ignored by the media and almost never represented on film. This is a low budget film that was shot in only 17 days, but the quality of it really doesn’t matter here. We need more films like this.
Down to the Bone (2004, directed by Debra Granik) – can someone please explain to me why Debra Granik doesn’t make more films? This was her debut feature, filmed six years before her breakthrough film Winter’s Bone (that shot Jennifer Lawrence among the biggest Hollywood stars, while Granik hasn’t filmed anything except one documentary since!) and it’s about a woman stuck in a stale marriage with two kids who is trying to manage her secret drug habit. This is without a doubt one of Vera Farmiga’s best performances I’ve seen so far.
Ana Maria in Novela Land (2015, written and directed by Georgina Riedel) – I had really low expectations about this one for some reason, but I ended up quite enjoying it. Edy Ganem as the lead actress does an amazing job in this Freaky Friday/Jane the Virgin switching-bodies comedy that makes fun of Mexican telenovelas just in the right way. The cast almost entirely consists of Latino Americans which is just another reason why I liked it, since they’re one of the most underrepresented ethnic groups in American cinema.
28 Days (2000, written by Susannah Grant, directed by Betty Thomas) – this film tries to tackle a difficult subject about addiction, but ends up being a bit superficial, if not even preachy at times. Sandra Bullock also wasn’t the right fit for the main role; she may be good at comedies, but she couldn’t fit less in this role that required depth and complexity.
Sunlight Jr. (2013, written and directed by Laurie Collyer) – I was kind of disappointed by this one. After seeing Collyer’s Sherrybaby last month, I expected this to be an equally good film. It certainly had a great cast (Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon), but even though they both deliver a solid performance, this clearly wasn’t enough to make the whole experience any better. The main problem, I think, was the script – it wanted to include too many things at once, without thoroughly exploring any of the problems it addresses. Even the main characters ended up being underdeveloped, especially Dillan’s. I appreciate that Collyer is trying to portray the stories of working class people in her films, but she fails to make them well-rounded characters because she’s too worried to make their life look like a living hell, trying to include every single thing that would make Watts’s life seem even more unbearable than it already is (as if the fact that her boyfriend is crippled due to an incident at a construction site and as if a place where she lives and works isn’t horrible enough; she had to include an alcoholic mother and a drug selling/stalker ex-boyfriend, both of which were kind of badly written, one-dimensional characters).
The Heat (2013, written by Katie Dippold)
Welcome to Me (2014, directed by Shira Piven)
Pitch Perfect 2 (2015, written by Kay Cannon, directed by Elizabeth Banks) – the first one was OK. The second one, not so much. I can’t remember when I last saw a film with so many stereotypes and racist jokes. The whole film was just plain offensive and I wanted to punch the screen every time the exchange student from Guatemala opened her mouth. How is it even possible to put so many stereotypes about Latin Americans into one tiny high-school a cappella member?
John Tucker Must Die (2006, directed by Betty Thomas)
Aquamarine (2006, co-written by Alice Hoffman, directed by Elizabeth Allen) – there is a fair chance that I would really like this film if I would watch it as a 10 year old. But since I’ve watched it as a 20-something, this wasn’t the case.
In Her Shoes (2005, written by Susannah Grant)
Catch and Release (2006, written and directed by Susannah Grant) – badly written and very, very poorly directed. Just awful through and through.
Ride (2014, written and directed by Helen Hunt) – I’ve never liked Helen Hunt and I certainly didn’t expect to like her second directorial feature. But I still didn’t expect that watching this would be such a shitty experience. Ride is a film about a stuck-up, workaholic and overly protective, obsessively controlling single mother, who suffocates her son to the point, that he drops out of college the first second he gets away from her for the summer holidays. And this is essentially all this film is about: him finding himself after he finally leaves the nest and experiences a little freedom and her finding herself when she follows him to California and also (probably for the first time) experiences a bit of freedom while trying to understand what his new lifestyle is supposed to be about. This is a film about the unimportant problems of hideously rich white people who forgot how to live because they were too busy making money and maintaining a certain lifestyle. And the lamest, most predictable ending ((spoiler alert! oh wait, not really, you’ll know after the first half an hour where the story is headed) where the son comes to the realisation that he really can’t just surf for the rest of his life and that he has to finish his education) is just a cherry on top of all the awfulness that this film is. Helen Hunt needs to learn what real life problems look like, because following your son around in a rented limousine and trying to learn how to surf isn’t one of them. And oh, let’s not forget that she thinks her problems are so very important that she expects her Latino limousine driver to be with her 24/7; even though he has a family and a life of his own.