The film house is dying and falling apart. Big studios, growing decrepit and desperate, need to be much more strategic in what they release, especially for their summer “Tentpoles” — highly anticipated films designed to bring in high box-office numbers and keep studios afloat.
However, there is something different about this summer. Last summer’s big hits included lady leads in Inside Out, Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yet, equally screening and succeeding (sales-wise) were mega-macho movies like The Revenant, Furious 7, and The Hateful Eight. If summer 2015 was about showcasing strong (and strongly gendered) leads, then 2016 explored the struggle of the undefinable — and reminded us that it’s OK to be who we are, flaws and all.
As a late response to the Jackass-type male characters of the early 2000s, the femme-led raunchy comedy reigned supreme; they were “bad girls.”
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising had former rival neighbors battling against an even bigger, bolder, craftier foe: the sorority next door. In Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, douchebag leading men get even douchier leading women.
Yet, unlike its predecessor, Wedding Crashers — with its 75 percent Rotten Tomatoes score — Mike and Dave… ‘s measly 37 percent score is an easy lead in for Bad Moms, a comedy that explores a mother’s need for liberation from the gender roles pressed upon her from the patriarchy. Marketed as another raunchy comedy, Bad Moms is a bold statement in a long line of films which find ladies acting “un-ladylike.” Most of the time my other lady-identifying friends and I watch these films, laugh and say, “OMG, that’s so us!” Sometimes we drink too much, deface something, throw up in public, fight each other etc. These days, the tightly-laced lady character can finally reveal her flaws and the audience can laugh with her — not at her. Can Hollywood finally agree that women are funny too? Only time and dollars will tell.
All the womyn who independent(-ly overcome obstacles)
Last summer gave us two very important icons for feminist film: Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road and Rey from Star Wars. Last year, women were the ones who revolutionized the country in Suffragette and saved the men from Imperial forces.
This year, studios have green-lit a less polished, but a little more identifiable version of the female lead. The Ghostbusters reboot had to swim upstream from the very beginning of its PR run. A female-driven reboot whose trailer got more hate than any other movie trailer on YouTube, Ghostbusters follows the more traditional “hero’s journey” story structure. Ghostbusters has an ensemble cast, including a deeply flawed character (Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert) forced to save a city that isn’t very supportive of her or her sisters in science. There no sad/creepy pursuit of a love interest playing “hard to get,” but there is some serious sexualized eye candy in the form of Chris Hemsworth’s ditzy secretary. I ain’t mad at it, though.
Boys will be …
Another, very welcome, trend in summer movies has a more subtle message: gender roles are a drag for cis men too. In Key & Peele’s Keanu, two men of color have to adapt completely different, mega-macho personas to save their beloved kitten. In Captain America: Civil War, the Black Panther’s character carries the patriarchal weight of being a great warrior as the next King of Wakanda.
The weight of these gender roles crush the life out of us until we decide to run off to a deserted island to die — which is what happened in Paul Dano’s Hank in Swiss Army Man. This film, ambitiously quirky in all the right ways, unfolds as a commentary on gender roles and perceived masculinity. Through Hank’s interactions with Daniel Radcliffe’s Manny, the multi-purpose cadaver with a heart of gold, we see how Hank’s father, who probably is only regurgitating things that his father taught him, drove Hank to running away from it all. Hank spends a good portion of the film pleading for Manny’s company, teaching him the ways of the world, and in drag. Swiss Army Man is the platonic version of Brokeback Mountain, showing us two characters who love and need each other, and in doing so, overcome society’s burden of expectation. A unique struggle all genders can understand.