By Jennifer Merin
WeNews film critic
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Movies directed by Jodie Foster, Massy Tadjedin and Niki Caro burst into movie theaters in May. It's a good thing. We need some reassurance after the latest study pointing to Hollywood's minimizing treatment of women on screen and off.
(WOMENSENEWS)--May films are opening on the heels of the latest disheartening research into Hollywood's minimizing treatment of women, on screen and off.
Analyzing stats derived from 2008's top grossing 100 films, a USC Annenberg School of Communications study--posted on its Web site April 22--finds high percentages of female teen characters costumed in scanty, sexually provocative clothing with exposed cleavage, midriff and-or upper thighs. For male teens, the numbers were significantly lower.
The report also found that for every woman who directed, wrote or produced a movie in 2008, there were nearly five men chosen for the same creative positions.
That's depressing. But a bunch of great movies opening this month are made by women and put women in terrific, serious roles. See them to show your support!
One is Jodie Foster's latest directorial effort, the much-anticipated "The Beaver," which opened May 6. It's an unusual family drama in which Foster also stars as Meredith, whose husband (Mel Gibson) finds relief from severe depression and social alienation by expressing himself through his alter ego, an ever present beaver hand puppet. Don't let Gibson's infamous off-screen misogynistic tirades dissuade you from seeing this film. It touches in a positive and loving way on many important contemporary family and relationship issues.
Another is "Last Night," written and directed by Massy Tadjedin, which also opened May 6. It stars Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington as a happily married couple who face difficult issues of fidelity when they spend a night apart: he on a business trip with an attractive colleague (Eva Mendes) and she in a chance encounter with a former lover (Guillaume Canet). This is a steamy and seductive film and as far as what else happens, you'll find no spoilers here.
On May 6 "An Invisible Sign," Marilyn Agrelo's first feature, also opened. It's based on Aimee Bender's sweet and quirky novel about Mona (Jessica Alba), who had escaped her childhood emotional traumas by focusing on heady mathematical equations and who, as a shy and troubled 20-something, finds her vocation in teaching math at a grade school. There she reluctantly allows a handsome science teacher to add unexpected romance to her life's equation.
"Daydream Nation" is a tense coming-of-age narrative about a city girl (Kat Dennings) who brings her teenage street wise sense of adventure to a small town and winds up in a tawdry love triangle with her high school teacher (Josh Lucas) and a stoner classmate. Written and directed by Michael Goldbach, this nails teen angst.
"Something Borrowed," directed by Luke Greenfield and scripted by Jennie Snyder, is based on Emily Griffin's eponymous best-selling novel. In it, a love triangle develops among 30-something and should-know-better best friends. Loyalties are tested when Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) lays claim to her law school crush (Colin Egglesfield), just as he's about to marry her best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson). The plot is pretty much chick flick cliché and if you're looking for a film that allows Hudson to reclaim her career's better half, this isn't it.
On the heels of "Something Borrowed," another pre-nuptials seasonal comedy opens on May 13. "Bridesmaids" is being groomed as an early-summer blockbuster. This send-up of girly behavior during wedding preps and pomp headlines comedienne Kristen Wiig, who co-wrote (with Annie Mumolo) the screenplay and stars as Annie, the maid of honor and head wedding cheer- and ringleader. "Bridesmaids" is a barrel of sitcom-style laughs but has few sidesplitting surprises.
On a more serious note, "The Vintner's Luck" is an adaptation of the Elizabeth Knox novel set in 19th century France. A peasant winemaker attempts to better his circumstances by creating the perfect vintage. Director Niki Caro, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joan Scheckel, presented us with larger-than-life heroines in "Whale Rider" (2002) and "North Country" (2005). Here she does it again with Celeste (played by Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Countess Aurora de Valday (played by Vera Farmiga), the two influential women in the winemaker's life. As in all of Caro's films, the cinematography is exquisite.
"HEY BOO: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird," is Mary McDonagh Murphy's must-see biographical documentary about Nelle Harper Lee, author of just one novel, that popular masterpiece from 1960 that remains a bestseller. Murphy's tribute film uses archival footage of Lee's childhood and of the mature author mingling with New York literati, including close pal Truman Capote, as well as significant scenes from the brilliant 1962 cinema adaptation of her book. The documentary shows how Lee and "To Kill a Mockingbird" were prime movers in the anti-segregation movement.
Acclaimed screenwriter Ann Peacock penned "The First Grader," a truth-based tale about an 84-year-old Kenyan who fights for his right to an education, enters primary school with a class of first graders who are one-10th his age and teaches everyone a good lesson about moral strength and righteous determination.
"Go For It!" is about determination, too. Carmen (Aimee Garcia), who hails from a working class Mexican neighborhood in Chicago, toils at a grocery store to put herself through college, but all she really wants to do is dance. Her professor, who just happens to see her in a street performance, encourages her to audition for a prestigious California dance school. Written and directed by Carmen Marron, the film presents familiar plot twists--moments of self doubt, familial dissent, boyfriend pressures, a physically abused best friend--that have fueled other determined-to-dance films ranging from "Save The Last Dance" (2001) to "Billy Elliot" (2000). However, the dancing and music are quite entertaining.
Deborah Chow wrote and directed "The High Cost Of Living," a dark and brooding psychological drama about fate, circumstance and personal action. Henry (Zach Braff) and Nathalie (Isabelle Blais) become involved when their lives collide in a fatal accident that forever changes their outlook and future. Again, no spoilers here about this high-stakes, low-budget indie film.
On May 26, look forward to the animated "Kung Fu Panda 2," which hits in 3-D on regular and IMAX screens nationwide. Jennifer Yuh directed this sequel, which features Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Po (Jack Black), Monkey (Jackie Chan) and other celebrated voices in new adventures battling evil as only an animated panda, big cat and other fantastic creatures can. Fair game as family fun, but not quite adult fare, strictly speaking.
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In addition to covering film for Women's eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about
documentaries for About.com (http://documentaries.About.com ) and is president of the
Alliance of Women Film Journalists (www.AWFJ.org ), a nonprofit organization of the
leading women film journalists in the U.S. and Canada. She is also a member of the
Broadcast Journalists Association.