Sometimes I get tired of going to the movies, only to be disappointed by weak, stereotypical damsel-in-distress characters who contribute nothing to the story. Or I become weary even of my favorite classics, like My Big Fat Greek Wedding or Ten Things I Hate About You, where the heroines, while funny and down-to-earth, are still being held to traditional standards and beauty and waiting for a man to come rescue them. In times like these, I turn to the following movies to reinstate my faith in moviemaking and to experience the presence of a strong female protagonist who is the subject of the action, not its object. Maybe you will enjoy them, too!
1) Baby Mama
When you see Tina Fey’s and Amy Poehler’s names on the billing, you know you’re in for a good time. Baby Mama is an outrageous comedy about a single, successful executive (Tina Fey) who has tried over and over to have a baby to no avail. Finally, she enlists the help of a surrogate (Poehler) who is her polar opposite. It’s essentially the perfect female “buddy” movie, and woefully underrated.
What I love so much about Baby Mama is that not only are its characters allowed to be funny and sexy at the same time, but they struggle with real-life issues, sometimes in unflattering but relatable ways. For instance, Poehler’s character is addicted to Tastykakes and falls prey to hate sex every now and then, while Fey’s character thinks a peasant blouse is appropriate club wear. Most of all, it deals with the topic of reproduction, families, and working women with hilarious and fascinating clarity.
2) Harold and Maude
Throwback alert! This 1971 cult classic stars Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon as a young, death-obsessed bachelor and an eccentric septuagenarian, respectively, who begin to bond over their shared passion for attending the funerals of strangers. Maude is essentially an elderly Manic Pixie Dream Girl, inspiring Harold to appreciate every second of life, rather than constantly pondering death. Eventually, the two begin a romantic relationship, which is met with horror by Harold’s parents, priest, and basically all his acquaintances, but their love is so convincing that I am always on their side 100%.
This exploration of the sexuality and overall humanity of the older generations is poignant and often gut-bustingly funny, due to Maude’s incorrigible sense of fun and adventure. And the shocking ending will make you ugly-cry, I’m pretty positive.
Remakes aren’t always watchable, but this 2007 sprucing up of John Waters’ 1988 comedy worked so well, it rattled my whole existence. Waters specializes in films that challenge hegemonic ideas about bodies, sexuality, and desire, and Hairspray, at its core, is no different. Tracy Turnblad, a high school student in the 1960s, dreams of being on The Corny Collins Show, a popular after-school dance program. When she gets turned down because of her weight, she decides to devote her to time to righting the wrongs caused by all types of inequality, all while chasing the object of her affection and keeping her coiffure looking fabulous.
Hairspray is often venerated for its passionate depiction of the Civil Rights movement set to upbeat, catchy compositions that give its stars a chance to vocally shine. However, I appreciate it just as much for its star, whose confidence in herself is contagious. Played with spunk by Nikki Blonsky, Tracy is the voice inside us all that tells us not only should be not be ashamed of our bodies, we should embrace them.
4) Julie and Julia
Taking place in both modern day and the 1950’s, Julie and Julia is based on the true story of a blogger, played by the always-fabulous Amy Adams, who decided to cook her way through the entirety of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Along the way, she alienates her husband, annoys her cat, and throws at least one raw chicken on the floor. I feel you, girl.
Equally enthralling is the simultaneous telling of Julia Child’s story, depicted by the infamous Meryl Streep. Both women are characters with an extraordinary amount of agency. They know what they want, and they take steps to make their dreams happen. I admire both women every time I watch the movie. Plus, bonus Stanley Tucci!