Welcome to Girls on Film -- a Monday-night column here at Cinematical, full of female-centric musing, rants, love and aggravation.
Finding a good collection of great female cinematic characters is like finding a bunch of needles in a haystack -- it takes a lot of sifting, time and the dreaded p-word -- patience. Add the mayhem and chaos of the Christmas consumer frenzy, and the task becomes near impossible and completely unappealing.
Enter our beloved Bechdel Rule. While it isn't the perfect way to find great female fare -- its requirements can exclude great films and include questionable ones -- The Rule is a great way to weed through much of the horde and find true gems. As the old comic states, to pass the test, a film must have two female characters who talk to each other about something other than men.
What seems like such a simple and easy-to-fulfill concept is a lot harder to find on film than you might think, and after some perusing and pickiness, what follows are a slew of Bechdel-passing films full of great female characters, grouped by theme. These flicks are sure to please any gift-ee itching to watch some great cinematic women, and anyone eager for some good cinema.
The Teen Contingent
Based on Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel, 'Persepolis' follows a young and outspoken Iranian girl growing up during the Islamic revolution. Marjane is a young dynamic, wanna-be punk rocker who loves her jeans and music. But in the face of the revolution, she is sent to school in Austria to face an entirely different sort of indifference -- children who see her as the other, due to their misconceptions about Iran. Her story is empowering as well as charming and fun, and tune in for Marjane's talks with her grandmother.
Severely under-seen by audiences last year, there are few recent films able to provide the mixture of inspiration and entertainment that you get with Drew Barrymore's 'Whip It.' It's roller derby over beauty pageants, with the likes of Ellen Page and Alia Shawkat, plus a great supporting part by Kristin Wiig. Page's Bliss gets romance, but also the chance to handle it in an all-too-rare way. Boys might enter the picture, but the women reign supreme.
Before Scarlett Johansson was Hollywood's blonde bombshell, she was half of duo in 'Ghost World' alongside Thora Birch. Adapted from Daniel Clowes' novel, the film was a rare 2001 offering where the leads' push wasn't on romance or some ultimate goal, but rather the indifference and nonchalance of everyday life after the rush of high school. Enid and Rebecca talk about high school, life, work and the future. They're both highly unique yet completely relatable.
Don't Forget: 'Foxfire' -- Angelina Jolie, before superstardom, inspires a group of high school girls to band together and protect each other.
'Happy Go Lucky'
This might not be focused on the work place, but it shows one of the best professional women to grace the big screen -- or women at all, for that matter. Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a great teacher, but that doesn't define her or make her a dysfunctional mess in her personal life. She's optimistic and cheery, yet serious and caring when required. Poppy practically assaults us with her overly positive view of life, which, by the end, seems like a pretty great way to be.
'Stranger Than Fiction'
For a film about a man, 'Stranger Then Fiction' really knows how to offer up female characters. The love interest (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a successful and smart businesswoman who balances protective strength with compassion. But she's not the Bechdel follower. It's Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) talking with her assistant (Queen Latifah) about her writing process as she tries to figure out how to kill Harold Crick in strange locales.
Though the '90s film is a quintessential offering to the grunge/slacker movement, it's also a great look into post-collegiate women heading out into the workforce. For a film that's solidly entertaining, it not only mixes in a varied array of conversational topics, but also issues like AIDS and unemployment. And though the rest of the people around Lelaina (Winona Ryder) and Vicki (Janeane Garofalo) are men, they manage to still have great female chats.
Don't Forget: '9 to 5' -- Working women band together to teach their bigot boss a lesson, and improve the company in the process.
A film in which the female protagonist is positioned between her crappy current husband and the future potential of a charming doctor isn't the sort of fare that would usually pass the Bechdel Rule, but the late Adrienne Shelly's final film manages to squeeze it in. When it comes down to it, most of the film deals with boyfriends, husbands and lovers, but it's also so much about Jenna (Keri Russell) that it's never bogged down by the romance, because the true partnerships are between Jenna and the women in her life.
'Imagine Me and You'
One way around the Bechdel rule is to focus on a lesbian relationship. 'Imagine Me and You,' sees a woman find the gal of her dreams the day she marries her long-term boyfriend, but they talk and experience a whole lot more than romance. Rachel (Piper Perabo) and Luce (Lena Headey) bond over everything from flowers to soccer heckling, while Luce has a number of sweet, science-y conversations with Rachel's little sister, H.
Don't Forget: 'Kissing Jessica Stein' -- Another lesbian relationship cheat, Jennifer Westfeld's romantic comedy brings her protagonists together through common interests and cerebral pleasures.
Dangerous and Deadly
'Grindhouse: Death Proof'
When it comes to dangerous women having a chat, there's nothing quite like a table of women talking tough over a meal like the four ladies of 'Death Proof.' They're not talking about romance and fashion, but moments of klutziness, carrying weapons, driving muscle cars and raving about the joys of 'Vanishing Point.' It's the perfect female conversation for the women who hate pink, bubbles and fluff. Note: Clip is NSFW and contains foul language.
The futuristic feminist superhero Tank Girl (Lori Petty) doesn't have much time to chat about men. As she teams up with Jet Girl (a young Naomi Watts), she must save her loved ones, befriend some kangaroo-men and defeat the evil overlord (Malcolm McDowell) who is controlling the water supply.
Neil Marshall's horror film offers up a new way to look at women in horror -- not as buxom babes being punished for their drinking and sex, but spelunking adventurers who get caught in a cave with a deadly creature hungry for their blood. Though there are some supporting roles by men, most of the film focuses on the dangers the group of women face underground, and they've got more pressing things to talk about than the woes of dating.
Need more? This site has a long list of Bechdel-passing fare, as well as those that don't make the cut. Also share your favorites below!