There is an art to leveling the playing field. So how does this translate across the screen with women in leading roles? Consider a world where con men, smuggling money, domestic violence, exploitation and infidelity are the norm. Bring in a psychiatrist, flight attendant, waitress, fairy (yes, you read that correctly) and a writer, all of whom are female. Now you have an interesting company of women utilizing their intellect to transform dicey situations into game changing strengths.
Meet Dr. Margaret Ford, a psychiatrist. One of her clients has a gambling problem and owes a bad guy a lot of money. She feels bad for him and confronts the man he owes. Turns out, her client is in debt a fraction of what he told her. Margaret gets suckered into accompanying this so called creditor to a poker game. She almost gets played for thousands of dollars. Catching on, Margaret steers clear then unfortunately comes back for more. Things escalate to a ridiculous level and she’s now out a lot of money. Later, during a visit from that same client, Margaret figures out she’s been taken big time. She taps into her newfound con artistry and take matters into her own hands. Cut to: self-forgiveness…House of Games (1987)
Enter a lady with enough frequent flyer miles to send us all on vacation. This no-nonsense flight attendant does what it takes to pay the bills. This includes regularly smuggling money for an arms dealer. After getting busted, Jackie realizes quickly it’s time for a new strategy. Having the right bail bondsman scoop her up out of jail definitely helps. Miss Jackie skillfully negotiates individual deals with law enforcement and the gun runner without either being the wiser. In the end, everyone–well almost everyone–walks away happy. Smooches, gotta flight to catch…Jackie Brown (1997)
“Do you want your toast on wheat or rye?” So this is Slim; waitress in a diner who work longside her BFF. After a jerk head customer insults her, a dashing dude sitting nearby clues her in and stands up for her. You know where this is going. She falls for him, they get married, he buys a big house, they have a baby and then the other shoe drops. He’s cheating on her, she confronts him, he says “tough, I make the money”, she says “I’m outta here”, he says “no way” by hitting her in the face. The assaults continue, Slim leaves with their daughter. Hiccups ensue, she stays on the run and pepper spray isn’t cutting it. Hire a stand in, take Krav Maga and call it a wrap. Self-defense trumps divorce…Enough (2002)
A fairy with some serious mojo, yet she’s an outcast to humans…except for one little boy. They become friends, time passes, are smitten with each other, power hungry king wants her land, fierce fairy says it ain’t happenin’. Dissed king offers his crown and his daughter as prizes to whoever kills our fairy. Smitten lads jumps at the chance, slips our fairy a roofie, and upon awakening her wings are gone. Now a married king, he throws a christening party. Said fairy shows up unannounced, makes a scary declaration, king panics and hides daughter. Our fairy finds her, they eventually bond, daughter finds out fairy’s backstory, isn’t happy about it and heads back home. Scary declaration comes to pass, daughter is in a deep sleep, kiss from male suitor doesn’t do it, motherly kiss from our fairy does, major fight scene, order is restored. With these wings I thee led…Maleficent (2014)
Two writers meet at a party, one female, the other male. She, Amy, puts the ‘zing’ in amazing. He, Nick, can’t help but be drawn to her. Witty banter and physical attraction reveal there’s more worth exploring. Dates follow, a few years later “I now pronounce you man and wife.’” Recession wipes out both of their jobs, wife’s parents take a huge chunk out of her trust fund, husband’s mom is ill, couple uproot their lives and move back to hubbie’s stomping grounds. Out of her element, she reads, she gardens, she buys her man a bar. In his element, he teaches at the local college, drinks at the bar, cheats on wife repeatedly and shoves her into staircase. Victim or victor? Amy “disappears”, husband becomes a suspect, media circus. Man seeks legal counsel, publicly acknowledges he disrespected his spouse, wife coordinates a dramatic return, informs husband a baby is on the way. Smile for the camera!…Gone Girl (2014)
If you want to see what someone is made of, observe how they respond to a problem. This is especially fascinating cinematically when women are at the forefront. If someone pushes a man’s buttons he may respond with violence, make things explode or drive a car really, really, really fast. If a woman is faced with a whopper, her response is filtered through her feelings which have gotten a bad rap if you think about it. She’s being “emotional” or “crazy” or “bitter”. Margaret, Jackie, Slim, Maleficent and Amy all took, in my opinion, logical, rational assessments of what and who they were dealing with and acted accordingly. Were the bulk of their choices moral or legal? No, but it did even out an imbalanced way of being and doing. More and more we’re seeing women portrayed in films as they really are: multi-faceted, thinking, powerful forces regardless of environment, socio-economic status, physical strength and ethnicity.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to watch these films and observe what comes up for you. Other movies with female leads transforming challenges and obstacles into strengths may cross your mind along the way. And you know what? That’s a great thing.
Erynne Elkins is a cosmopolitan writer. She is based in the Chicagoland area for now and she writes about all sorts of things. You can check her out on Twitter @DigitalHippy70