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Girl In Progress

23 May

This movie kind of pissed me off because it put me in a bind that I often find myself in: Story about a teenage girl – awesome! And her relationship with her single, working mom – yes! Directed by a woman – boom! Unfortunately, just like my last relationship, everything looks great on paper but once you’re in it you realize it’s just a big ol’ mess.

This is the story of Ansiedad (Cierra Ramirez) a 15 year old girl and the only child of Grace (Eva Mendes). Grace is a self-absorbed waitress who favors time with a married man (Matthew Modine) over spending time with her daughter – or paying bills, grocery shopping, doing laundry. In order to detach from her mother completely, Aniesdad is trying to execute her own initiation into adulthood and does so by staging her own coming of age story through culturally significant yet destructive rites of passage.

Ramirez is a refreshing newcomer whose detachment from/desire for her mother’s love is one of the only genuine elements of this film. The actress herself is an actual teenager so maybe this has something to do with the honesty behind her performance. Girl In Progress also follows the traditional pattern in young adult female driven stories of the protagonist being disconnected, or somehow estranged, from her mother. While I recognize that struggling against authority and, more or less, hating your Mom is part of the process of being a teenager, I wish there were more films with positive Mom characters. Moms who daughters look up to. Moms who daughters admire, despite their flaws. Moms who become better because of their relationship to their children. Save for her 5-minute makeover at the end of the film (which I totally didn’t buy!), Grace is continually selfish and unlikable. Mendes is usually someone I like to watch, but here her charm reads as falseness and Grace remains unsympathetic and distant. Writer Hiram Martinez’s attempts to give her some sense of humanity through her struggles at work and fleeting moments of motherly affection don’t translate. This is a film about a struggling single mom the way Bad Teacher was a film about a struggling high school teacher. Not really. At all. Moments like these make me wonder if it is possible for men to write honest female characters. It doesn’t happen often and certainly didn’t here.

Something I found to be really careless about the film was its attitude towards dating violence. Rated PG-13, and billed as a Comedy/Drama, the target audience for this film is clearly high school girls. Considering that approximately 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner, and these numbers are even higher in Latina populations, I think Martinez could’ve opted out of lines like “Becky can’t come to work; she had a fight with a flight of stairs” when referring to one of the waitresses at the restaurant where Grace works. Certainly, director Patricia Riggin could’ve made a different choice. More disturbing than the careless dialogue are the interactions between Tavita (Raini Rodriguez), Ansiedad’s best friend, and the boy who tells her “I’m not your boyfriend no matter what we do in your basement.” He shoves her at one point and grabs Ansiedad at another. It happens so casually and it is just accepted by both the characters. If it’s a subversive choice by the filmmakers, I missed it. I just found it upsetting.

Girl In Progress does manage to usurp the tradition of providing young female characters with male role models. Ansiedad seeks guidance from her English teacher; a surprising appearance by Patricia Arquette, and Grace is treated with dignity by the wife of the man with whom she’s having an affair. The woman politely and privately lets her know she’s fired yet still acts with empathy towards Ansiedad. This was a refreshing choice even if it was totally unbelievable that Matthew Modine, his character or the real him, would ever end up with either of these women. And, even though there was very little attention given to heritage or cultural experiences, it was nice to watch a film with some non-white faces.

Overall, the film was much more mature than the creators were prepared for. It raises the question of some serious issues facing teenagers that can affect the type of adults they become. The film was released on Mother’s Day and I only hope that the mothers who saw this film with their daughters are also having conversations about the realities of coming of age. Telling them that you can’t create or even choose the experiences that make you an adult; it happens when you least expect it and in ways that are harsh, scary, and beautiful. I hope those same mothers, unlike Grace, are allowing their daughters to see their vulnerabilities and their strengths because as we grown-ups know, this life isn’t so easy. And the line between childhood and adulthood isn’t so clearly defined.

Cross-posted at pop!goesalicia.

Mirror, Mirror

3 May

“She wins who calls herself beautiful and challenges the world to change to truly see her.” – Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

There have been countless retellings of the Snow White story over the years. Americans are most familiar with Disney’s 1937 animated version based on the Grimm’s story Little Snow-White. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was Walt Disney’s first motion picture hence the marks the birth of the original Disney Princess. The Snow White story is my favorite of the all the princess tales because it explores a fascinating aspect of female gender privilege and power: beauty. It is also a classic mean girl tale ever so relevant considering the high incidence of bullying in our nation’s schools. Mirror, Mirror is Disney’s updated version of the classic tale and might be the studio’s first successful attempt at creating a feminist fairy tale.

The basic premise of the story is the same but with a few modernized plot lines: the Queen (Julia Roberts) has manipulated her way into power and is taxing her citizens into poverty in order to maintain her lifestyle. Her obsession with her own vanity and jealousy over the beauty of her step-daughter, Snow White (Lily Collins), drive her to order that the girl be taken to the forest and killed. Snow White is set free by the huntsman ordered to kill her and left in the woods where she befriends a crew of dwarf bandits. 7 to be exact. On is the smart one. One is the mean one. One thinks he’s a wolf. And then there’s the creepy one. Seriously, one of the dwarfs hits on her the whole time and it gets a little weird. Snow White realizes the conditions of her kingdom and enlists the bandits to help return the money to the people. It’s all very Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Oh yeah, and there is a Prince (Armie Hammer – who is just about as cute as his name), and a beast that lives in the woods.

Director Tarsem Singh creates a handful of visually enticing moments but everything evokes the feeling of something we’ve already seen. Guests of the Queen resemble residents of The Hunger Games’ Capitol. In Singh’s version, the Queen walks through her mirror into this odd other world where she enters an igloo made out of straw and converses with her own reflection – which looks like an Austen character painted white. It’s very Alice in Wonderland meets Lord of the Rings. The effect of it distracts from the poignancy of the message – that vanity is our greatest weakness. The evil of Roberts’ Queen is less sinister, more jovial heartlessness rooted in sincere delusion – a cross between Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and any one of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

The best part of Singh’s re-visioning is Snow White herself. Reintroducing the original Disney Princess in the image of what an actual princess might look like – a political figure, heir to a throne, fighting for her country – is a welcome change to the traditional character who had very little personality beyond beauty. In fact, Snow White 2012 is immediately introduced as curious and thoughtful, if not a little naïve. On her 18th birthday she sneaks off castle grounds into the town and returns with opinions and accusations about how the Queen is ruling the kingdom. It marks a significant identity shift, a coming of age moment when she steps into the skin of the woman she is to become: a leader.

Similar to Katniss Everdeen, another brave teen girl on the silver screen right now, this Snow White is not a helpless child or a detached beauty queen. She doesn’t frolic around the woods singing and chatting up woodland animals until her Prince comes to rescue her. For both of these girls, beauty, as well as romance, is a luxury. It’s just a distraction from the reality of their lives – survival, protection and helping their country. It is a powerful message for both girls and women; a reminder that we can easily become our own Evil Queen – so committed to our vanity – that we have less time, confidence and energy to do what’s really important in our lives.

originally written for the fabulous (go check it out now!) Sadie Magazine and cross posted at pop!goesalicia

Katniss Everdeen: Girl

9 Apr

“No woman is really an insider in the institutions fathered by masculine consciousness. When we allow ourselves to believe we are, we lose touch with parts of ourselves defined as unacceptable by that consciousness.” – Adrienne Rich

The Hunger Games debuted the first of the trilogy’s film adaptations last month to record-breaking success. It had the highest grossing opening weekend for a film that wasn’t a sequel. The top two are Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and The Dark Knight, which makes THG the highest grossing opening weekend for a film with a female protagonist! I have been doing a lot of thinking, talking and reading about THG and I am writing this because I am disappointed in the lack of discussion around gender. Many are celebrating Katniss for being a gender-neutral character and the conversation seems to be defining gender-neutral as meaning boys like her too. In order for this character to be gender-neutral it would have to not matter that she is a girl. And, to the citizens of Panem, or in the Arena, maybe it doesn’t. But, for American audiences, it does. And here’s why.

1. Female protagonists are few and far between

In both literature and film males vastly outnumber female protagonists. Studies have shown that, while females regularly view movies with male leads, males are less likely to view films with a female lead. From personal experience, as someone who seeks out female driven stories, I can say I have read way more books with interesting female characters than seen films, especially in the teen genre. Considering the harmful effect media images have on girls specifically, it is extra important that Katniss has become a film character accessible to girl viewers.

2. Katniss is a girl created by a girl

Just as it is for characters, gender disparity is present in the creation of these characters. Men outnumber women in all areas of publishing as well as producing, directing and writing films. This has resulted in what researchers have coined the “male gaze” meaning all characters, whether male or female, are created from the male point of view and satisfy a heteronormative masculine desire. Men and women have different experiences in the world that are directly related to their gender and this makes their perspective vastly different. A hero is defined as an ordinary person in extraordinary situation. When creating a hero Suzanne Collins chose a girl to be that extraordinary person and in doing so created an entirely different narrative – a girl’s story. The more these stories are told the more our ideas about gender and gender roles change and then maybe it really won’t matter that she’s a girl.

Note: Suzanne Collins also wrote the screenplay – double bonus for Hollywood!

3. Katniss redefines “girl”

The cultural standard of human behavior is defined by the behavior of men. This is something feminist scholars, activists and others work to disrupt, however, we still exist in a reality where woman is defined as “other” and “different.” It is usually these differentiating characteristics that we devalue. Because Katniss is a girl every time she operates outside a traditional female assigned behavior she challenges a stereotype and every time she participates it adds value to the female experience. It also fully reflects one of the primary tenets of feminism: the freedom to choose. When we put a girl like Katniss on the screen – one who is tough, resilient, strong, caring, loyal, loving, protective, responsible, focused – she creates a new image in which girls can see themselves. She also presents a new image in which boys see girls – as individuals worthy of being friends with rather than sexual objects for them to play with.

4. Katniss is a fighter

I am a big believer in teaching girls to fight (and NOT WITH OTHER GIRLS!) Now, you may hear this and think of a physical response. And you know what, sometimes that is part of it. What I am really talking about is inspiring the fight inside a girl to be brave, to be strong, and to persevere. As a culture, we teach that to boys but we teach girls to depend on someone else, to let someone else fight for them. Or we teach them not to care. We distract them with things like clothes, makeup, and boyfriends. Katniss learned to fight out of necessity but she never compromises her integrity when doing so. In fact, being a girl, influences not only how she fights (with her head and her heart) but also what she is fighting for (ultimately, freedom for Panem and all its citizens).

5. Katniss is motivated by love

An essay by Mary Borsellino had me thinking about Katniss as a character who is motivated by love and the political implications of those choices. Because love has traditionally been assigned as a female emotion, a female character has more agency to act with love then a male character. When they do, it activates a non-traditional power source to which women have access and thus the potential to instigate change. This translates to the real world as well but, as history has shown us, women are often afforded more opportunity when following the dominant pattern of success (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em). This is usually because female associated behaviors such as love, compassion, and relationships are also seen as weaknesses. However, successful leaders who usurp this model have often been male such as Gandhi and MLK Jr. Because she is driven by love – supporting her family, honoring Rue’s death, saving Peeta’s life – Katniss emulates a new way of doing that disrupts the culture of competition that measures success by individual achievement rather than what is good for the whole. Because she succeeds, her story tells us that it’s OK to love and, on another level, that it is OK to be a girl. Both strong messages that we could all stand to be reminded of more often.

The thing is, Katniss Everdeen is a unique representation of girlhood that is far more common than Hollywood would have you believe. Her presence in the pop cultural landscape is important, especially in a medium that legions of teens have access to, because she is changing the way we view youth, culture and gender.

And, yes, it matters that she’s a girl.

Hunger Games: anticipation & a teeny bit of worry!

23 Mar

We suspect that Alicia may have found her way to a midnight screening of The Hunger Games film last night, but for Nora and Em, tonight is the night! Going into the screening, here is what we’re each most highly anticipating and what we’re dreading a little bit ….


    Any time Hollywood turns a book, especially one loved as much as The Hunger Games, into a movie I have the inevitable feelings of wariness and skepticism.  However, those feelings are matched by a tangible excitement pulsing through my body when I think of the place and people in my mind becoming real images.  
    This is why I am most concerned about the costumes. There was so much attention and detail given to presentation in the book and I’m worried Hollywood will over-sexualize or undervalue the effect of Katniss’ appearance. Also, not loving Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. However…
    What I am most excited about are the unexpected moments that are sure to arise and will truly evoke the emotions I felt while reading. I often find these in the performances of the actors (see Jessica Chastain in The Help). I have mixed feelings about some of the casting – Woody Harrelson as Haymitch? Not in my head. But Jennifer Lawrence feels like the only choice for Katniss and that pretty much trumps all of my other casting concerns. I’m really amped to see her take on such an iconic role. It’s also why this is the image that gets my blood pumping…


    I am most excited about costumes…also watching Jennifer
    Lawrence’s performance.  I just watched Winter’s Bone last night, and I kept seeing all these parallels – like skinning a squirrel, having to sacrifice for siblings etc. I think she is going to be awesome. And who isn’t excited for Wes Bentley’s facial hair?

    I am dreading the Peeta/Gale casting.  I am just not feeling it via the pictures.  Maybe when I’m watching the actual movie I will see why they were cast, as all the other casting seems great.


    What I’m most excited about? I think Jennifer Lawrence is going to kill it. She is way older than I pictured Katniss, but she’s a solid actress and as Nora said, Winter’s Bone totally sold me on her in this role. I’m also interested to see Lenny Kravitz as Cinna and Elizabeth Banks as Effie. Neither are anywhere close to how I pictured these two characters, but I think they’re going to redefine these characters for me.

    What I’m dreading? The muttations. Did anyone see Breaking Dawn Part 1? That wolf council (or whatever) scene? I could not hold the laughter in. It was such a bad voiceover and CGI combo. I’m worried that some of the special effects work in The Hunger Games will be of the embarrassing variety. I’m hoping for the best, but also preparing for the worst.

What are you most excited for with The Hunger Games movie? What are you worried about? If you have seen it, what lived up to or exceeded your expectations? And what (if anything) fell flat?

Cute Wins!

26 Feb

I used to be really into the Oscars. I even won money once guessing the winners – the next year I won again (though money wasn’t on the line). And then this year happened. This year I saw plenty of movies, but of the 9 Best Picture nominees I only managed to see two – Midnight in Paris (on a plane) and The Artist (last night). Luckily there are some cool kids and presumably some cool adults who created a quick little overview to this year’s Best Picture nominees. (if the embedded videos do not appear below on your device, you can watch the videos here: Part 1 and Part 2)

I’m giving the kid who plays “Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris” an imaginary Oscar. Congratulations kid! You deserve it! In other news, I’ve never wanted to see The Tree of Life so badly. No one told me there were dinosaurs!

Cute should always win, but it can’t because animals are not eligible for Oscars and so Uggie will go home empty-pawed tonight. Seriously, in a movie that (likely) deserves any Oscar it receives, the dog really stole the show. (Uggie did win a Golden Collar this year, beating out another adorable little scene stealer, Cosmo from Beginners.)

In other cute news, The Muppets may finally win an Oscar for Best Song tonight (for “Muppet or Man” from The Muppets), an award that in my humble opinion they should have won back in 1979 with “The Rainbow Connection” (seriously Academy voters, what happened there?). Ok, technically, The Muppets won’t win the award should that song be chosen, but songwriter Bret McKenzie is close enough. According to Jason Segel Bret is by nature very Muppet-y. (I miss Flight of the Conchords.)

What films did you love from this past year? Who would you like to see take home an Oscar tonight? And what do you think of the Best Adapted Screenplay nominees?

Love Lessons from Edward Scissorhands

18 Dec

Alicia is back! Alicia is a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and guest posts with us here at Love YA Lit once a month!

It’s that time of year again. The holiday season is upon us – a brief moment of time known to most of us in western culture as the season of giving. With the current economic crisis, and a heightened awareness of conservation due to our struggling environment, many Americans are preoccupied with the challenge of gifting those we love. This holiday season why not stay away from the stores and give someone the gift of yourself. If you’re unsure of how to do that, as most of us are, take a deep breath, smile and try the following:

1. Start with the heart: Although I have seen this movie at least ten times, this time around I was struck by a single moment – the moment we learn of Edwards’s creation. In a brief yet poignant flashback we see Edward in his original form, a nearly faceless robot preparing for the holidays in a room full of concoctions. From across the room the Inventor approaches, in his hand a heart shaped sugar cookie which he holds up to Edwards’s chest. It is precisely this choice that motivates the entire subtext of the movie. The Inventor was inspired to bring Edward to life by giving him a heart. Not a thinking mind, not a perfect body but the ability to feel. In our constantly chaotic, success driven society the importance of feeling, or loving, is often neglected, but in truth it is the one thing we all have in common. So while many articles have commented on Edward’s difference – a loner, a misunderstood artist – I’d like to suggest that it is not the differences that endears us to Edward, and eventually turn the townspeople against him, but rather how we are the same.

2. Share yourself: Humans, at least Americans, spend most of their lives hiding our vulnerabilities and guarding ourselves from being hurt. Our protection isn’t as obvious as a fistful of knives, but is often just as harmful. With Edward Scissorhands, director Tim Burton provides a physical metaphor for vulnerability. And while his hands do not have the tangible ability to feel, Edward touches people none the less. Front yards are transformed into botanical works of art, and every woman in town lines up to receive a distinctive hairstyle. Everything as far as the eye can see is marked by Edward’s unique talents.

3. Make it snow: Just as it began, the movie draws to a close with a simple, beautiful act – Kim dancing in the snow. In this brief moment, we realize Kim’s love for Edward as she turns circles in the snow flakes created by his sculpting, literally enveloped in his love. Edward has no social understanding of how to participate in the life he has been brought into. He knows only how to be – that’s it, just be. And it is in this expression of who he is that Edward liberates Kim and she learns how to love without fear. For years, Tim Burton has been “making it snow” in Hollywood by sharing his vision with an audience through innovative films like Beetlejuice and Sweeney Todd. It is the gift of truth – our talents, our love, ourselves – that is most worth giving. So this holiday season, when you’re thinking presents, think of yourself. Maybe it’s a mixtape of your favorite songs, or the chance to see a classic film on the big screen. Let us give to each other the passion in our souls and the love in our hearts. And by all means touch someone, because you can.

Films stills from Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, 20th Century Fox Film Corporation.

Guest Review: Girls Town

11 Nov

Alicia is back! Alicia is a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and guest posts with us here at Love YA Lit once a month!

“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? …for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.” – Audre Lorde

Patti (Lili Taylor), Angela (Bruklin Harris), Emma (Anna Grace) and Nikki (Aunjanue Ellis) are best friends on the cusp of graduating high school when suddenly, and for seemingly no reason, Nikki commits suicide. Heartbroken and confused the girls seek out a reason for their friend’s death and in the pages of her journal discover that she had been raped. The rest of the film documents each girls’ personal struggle and their cohesive desire for retaliation.

This film is special for many reasons the primary being the honest way it confronts rape and the way it effects each girl individually as well as in the larger cultural narrative. No one person can speak about rape in a way that is all inclusive but the Girls Town script is fresh, organic and likely to strike a chord with many female viewers. (note: many of the scenes were improvised earning Taylor, Harris and Grace writing credits in addition to Denise Caruso and Jim McKay). As a director, Jim McKay’s understanding of, or at least respect for, the repercussions of this type of violence is communicated by creative and powerful cinematic choices. So often we see sexual attacks on the screen and it is painful, almost unnecessary, to watch. McKay opts to leave out the details of Nikki’s rape but opens his film with a monologue of sorts: the camera follows Nikki as she walks down the street in her neighborhood and instead of words or music we hear the sounds of her struggle during the attack. This poignant foreshadowing immediately connects us to Nikki. More importantly it reflects the deeply psychological effects rape has upon an individual. Is this what she hears in her head? What does she see when she closes her eyes? How can she live with this secret?

The culture of silence around rape is immense, but fragile. Which is why it crumbles so easily once it has been pierced. The discovery of Nikki’s rape leads Emma to admit that she was also raped…by her boyfriend. This sets off an intense discussion among the girls about their own relationships with men and the choices and responsibilities their gender holds them accountable for. The reality is stark and aptly summed up by Patti who bluntly responds to Emma’s admission: “What did you expect? They want to have sex with you; you don’t want to have sex with them, they’re going to fuck you anyway. You call that rape and I’ve been raped by pretty much every guy I been with.” It’s a hard truth to hear especially because it reflects a sad reality. So, let me follow it up with another pertinent truth, one that is much less heard in the dominant narrative, by the amazing Jess Valenti: “[Being] responsible has nothing to do with being raped. Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them.”

This conversation between the girls introduces the anger that has lived inside them that this event has now given voice to. In the image of a GenX Foxfire they begin to confront the violence they are subjected to and the people who perpetrate it. As exciting and important as it is to see these girls become active agents in their own lives, it was equally valuable to watch the girls struggle with their anger and how to move through it towards a place of deeper insight. The most interesting reflection of this process is when Patti directly confronts a guy who is verbally harassing her on the street. When she runs into him again he addresses her respectfully, apologizes, and owns his behavior. Relating the story to her friends she is met with resistance and cynicism about his sincerity to which Patti replies, “He listened to me.” Privilege is hard to resist and accountability, unfortunately, is not a common trait in Americans. However, attending to these issues on screen is reflective of a cultural shift that is necessary for evolution.

As I said, this film is special. For giving voice to a cultural silence, for showing girls being angry and brave and hurt and sad and powerful and finally, for sharing an element of healing imperative to our future.

Buffy is back!

14 Sep

And I don’t mean Ringer, though I did watch it and, well, it was nice to see SMG onscreen again.

If you thought Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended back in 2003 when the Sunnydale Hellmouth officially closed for business, you are missing out on some wild wild times in the Season 8 comics. And today, the first issue (or episode, as my friends and I call them) of the Season 9 series was released with stunning covers by (left to right) Jo Chen, Georges Jeanty (who is also a penciller for the series), and Steve Morris. I pre-ordered the Steve Morris edition and so am waiting patiently for it to arrive in my mailbox. These really are the good mailbox days.

For those who want to avoid any spoilers for Season 8, avoid eye contact below. For those who want to know what to look forward to, check out the official product description from Dark Horse:

Season 8 ended with a bang when Buffy cut the world off from the hell dimensions and all supernatural influence. Great, right? Except Buffy has left her best friend, Willow, powerless, and ended the long line of vampire slayers, leaving her hated by the hundreds of girls who recently stood behind her. Newly relocated to San Francisco, Buffy can count on a fresh start, and focus on what she’s good at–slaying.

After a summer marathon Buffy rewatch* and rereading the Season 8 comics, I have to say that I’m most interested to see where the writers take Willow and how the friendship between her and Buffy develops. At the end of Season 8, Willow is left powerless, after Buffy rids the world of magic. How will she deal? How will this affect her relationship with Buffy? And how will she get her power back (because we all know that will happen at some point, right)?

    Title: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #1 – Freefall Part 1
    Writer: Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss
    Penciller: Georges Jeanty
    Inker: Dexter Vines
    Cover Artists: Jo Chen, Georges Jeanty, & Steve Morris
    Publisher: Dark Horse
    Publication Date: September 14, 2011 (today! yay!)

*a special thanks to Nikki Stafford of Nik at Night and all her guest bloggers during the Great Buffy Rewatch (still going strong) whose blog makes me feel all smarty-pants while I watch TV and to my good buddies Mary Ellen and Dan who are the only people I know who will play the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Board Game that many times while watching that many episodes (y’all are special).

Guest Post: Bridesmaids

24 Jun

Alicia is back! Alicia is a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and guest posts with us here at Love YA Lit once a month!

We realize that the following film is not quite YA, but we’ll call it a crossover. Plus aren’t 30 year olds the new young adults? Nora is going to be a bridesmaid at Em’s wedding in October and we watched this film together, so it seems especially appropriate to have a review of Bridesmaids on our blog!

Bridesmaids has been all the talk among critics and audiences this summer and for good reason. Written by Kristen Wiig (SNL) and directed by Paul Feig (The Office), Bridesmaids rips the veil of “traditional femininity” off the entire getting-to-the-altar spectacle. The most common question posed about this film is “Will audiences respond to a comedy led by an entirely female cast?” Judging from box office reports, the answer is yes.

Not that we needed another reason to love Kristen Wiig, but this film gives us many. In a turn from the quirky, uncomfortable and awkward characters she has endeared us to in her tenure on SNL, Wiig’s Annie is a realistic and relatable character who slowly unravels throughout the course of the film. She has followed her passion into bankruptcy and continues to sleep with the wrong man (a hilariously douche-y Jon Hamm) while ignoring the Mr. Right-under-her-nose (Chris O’Dowd – adorable!). All the while she insists she’s fine as her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), gets sucked into the wedding whirlwind with a newer, prettier, more perfect sidekick (Rose Byrne). I can’t remember the last time I related so closely to a character. It’s hard to be the under-employed, broke, single friend – trust me.

Wiig is responsible for co-writing the script as well as some of the funniest, screen stealing moments. The entire airplane scene was worth the $10 ticket alone. Five very funny women support Wiig, but it is only Melissa McCarthy, as the sister of the groom, who succeeds in sharing the spotlight. Using her weight as a prop rather than a punch line, McCarthy brings heart and sincerity to what could have easily been a cruelly stereotypical role. By offsetting some of the traditionally feminine moments with things that are traditionally unfeminine, or at least unacceptable, like emotional breakdowns and bathroom humor, Bridesmaids attempts to present a more realistic view of marriage. Unfortunately, it also sacrifices comedic talent. Ellie Kemper (The Office) and Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911) are comedic gems, but in this film their talent is wasted as stereotypical archetypes of “married women”, reciting clichéd dialogue not to mention a gratuitous make-out scene. Boo. Nonetheless, as Manohla Dargis of the New York Times writes, “It’s nice to see so many actresses taking up space while making fun of something besides other women.” And, as one of two male characters in the film, O’Dowd’s honest and caring police officer who is unapologetically interested in Annie may be the Lloyd Dobbler for thirty-somethings.

What I loved most about this film was its presentation of the modern female experience and it is in this presentation that Bridesmaids was most subversive. Annie is kind of a mess but so what? Who says you’re supposed to have everything figured out and by a certain age? And since when does marriage prove that you do? For women, the markers of success have historically been a husband and a family, but now we can also add career to that list. So when you have neither, what are you left with? Annie’s journey to figure this out is painful, awkward, embarrassing and, most importantly, hilarious.

Guest post: Jane Eyre, my heroine!

1 May

Alicia is back! Alicia is a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and guest posts with us here at Love YA Lit once a month!

You know the story; orphan girl is tormented by wicked aunt and eventually sent to a home for girls where she is treated equally as awful. Upon maturation, girl is sent to serve as a governess for the unwanted child of a stoic barrister. Girl falls in love with barrister but before they can marry discovers the skeleton in his closet – quite literally. Girl flees once again finding refuge with a minister and his sisters, until she is once again forced to leave for refusing to marry the man she loves as a brother. Ok, maybe its not exactly your average teen story, especially in Hollywood, but Jane Eyre is a modern role model more worthy of our attention than most of the mainstream media’s offerings. A timeless reflection of a young woman’s search for autonomy Jane’s journey is not unlike the path that all young women must travel.

Orphaned and left in the custody of her cruel Aunt Reed and her abusive son, Jane learns early on the difference between good and evil, as well as the consequences that await a girl who stands up for the truth. It is this commitment to Jane’s integrity and sense of morality that separates writer Moira Buffini’s interpretation of Charlotte Bronte’s manuscript from the previous 18 adaptations. Director Cary Fukanaga further distinguishes his film through artful imagery, an emotional original score composed by Dario Marianelli and performed by Jack Liebeck, and a stellar leading lady, Mia Wasikowska. The love story, between Jane and her employer, Mr. Rochester, the passionate Michael Fassbender, is secondary in this version. Instead, Fukanaga explores Jane’s relationship to solitude and the fine line that differentiates it from isolation. In doing so, he has created a site for young women to recognize the injustices of female adolescence and, thanks to a transcendent performance by Wasikowska, a teen character with traits worth emulating.

The film excels by making the isolation Jane experiences tangible. Opening with her departure from Thornfield Hall, a wide lens follows Jane as she treks across barren landscapes under gray skies, crying and collapsing. Fukanaga returns to similar moments of a solitary Jane in an empty world throughout the film but none of these images relate the unbearable sense of loneliness as the scene in the boarding school where Jane has been sent by her Aunt. In order to distract the teacher from beating her only friend, the young Jane allows her writing tablet to drop to the floor and smash. Left to stand alone on a chair in an empty room without food or water, the schools sinister headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, warns the other girls, “to withhold the hand of friendship from Jane Eyre,” deftly illustrating what young women today experience from their “Mean girl” peers.

At Thornfield, where she is employed as Governess to the unwanted child of the master of the house, Mr. Rochester, Jane’s isolation begins to evolve into a more self-governed solitude, as her only options are the elderly Mrs. Fairbanks (Dame Judi Dench) and the child she cares for. The isolation remains present in her young charge, the French-speaking Adele, for whom language is a barrier. Upon first meeting Jane, Adele confides to Jane “Nobody speaks to us,” a resounding truth for generations of unheard female voices.

The absence of choice that has defined Jane’s life and the commendable way in which she perseveres are what is most important for teen viewers to see. From an abused orphan to an alienated governess her life has not been her own, yet to the best of her ability she consistently makes choices that are in her own best interest. When she discovers Rochester’s secret, on their wedding day, she is not persuaded by his urging her to stay because, as he decides, no one would have to know. “And what about truth?” Jane asks and then she leaves. She refuses to live his lie or to live his life.

Many would say that Bronte was ahead of her time by creating a story and character that has remained so relatable to generations of women, and it’s true. But is also true that the world has not changed as much as we’d like to think. Everyday young women are overwhelmed with images and expectations that encourage conforming to traditional expectations rather than empowering them towards independence and self-discovery. Hollywood is the epi-center of this struggle where women are outnumbered both behind and in-front of the camera. By re-introducing audiences to an enduring role model, Jane Eyre reminds girls that listening to your own truth is the only way to be truly free.

This post was originally written for Sadie Magazine, an awesome online feminist magazine that we here at Love YA Lit highly suggest! Visit them online and keep an eye out for Issue 9 coming soon!