Speaking of Women's Rights: Holiday Movies with My Mother

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Movies with My Mother

Every holiday season, my mom and I try to see a movie together. We only have one rule: It has to be a “talky” film, as my mom calls it. We’ve never analyzed what that means, but it usually comes down to whether the movie features women in leading roles; there just aren’t a lot of “talky” films focusing on men.

Normally, it’s a struggle to find even one film that fits the bill— at least, to find one playing in the small town where my parents live. The one exception was 1988, when we couldn’t choose just one and wound up seeing three movies together: Working Girl, Beaches, and the Accidental Tourist. My mom still talks about that year.

So after arriving home for the holidays yesterday, I scanned the local movie listings with my mom. We have ten options: Alvin & The Chipmunks, Arthur Christmas, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Mission Impossible, the Muppets Movie, New Year’s Eve, Sherlock Holmes, The Sitter, and Twilight: Breaking Dawn.

Ugh. We start by eliminating Alvin, Arthur Christmas, and Hugo. Our definition of “talky” doesn’t include animated movies aimed at kids. And is it a coincidence that every one of them features a male protagonist?

The two formula action films (Mission Impossible and Sherlock Holmes) also get crossed off quickly. Ditto with The Sitter, a juvenile comedy with mediocre reviews.

We also eliminate Breaking Dawn, the latest installment in the Twilight series. I’ve already seen it, and even for a fan of the series (which I am, sort of) this movie is literally painful to watch. Bella, the heroine, has become one of the most passive women ever portrayed in film. She spends the movie: (1) getting married at the ripe old age of 18; (2) discovering she’s pregnant on her honeymoon; and (3) going through a tortuous pregnancy that’s almost certain to kill her, all while refusing to even consider abortion as an option. This would bore my mom to tears and cause her to yell at the screen.

We also nix The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo after reading one review. It does feature a kick-ass woman in a leading role. But it also includes extreme violence, including two rape scenes. Neither of us can bear to watch that.

We briefly consider New Year’s Eve, which includes great women actors like Hilary Swank and Halle Berry. But it gets crossed off after we read the first line of Roger Ebert’s review: “A dreary plod through the sands of time until finally the last grain has trickled through the hourglass of cinematic sludge.” Ouch.

Which leaves us with…The Muppets. Which I’ve already seen, and which I can’t even pretend to pitch to my mom as a “talky” film. It also has almost no female characters, aside from a few briefly satisfying “hi-ya!” moments from Miss Piggy and a blah role for Amy Adams as the leading man’s barely visible girlfriend.

We could drive 60 miles to the nearest big city to see a film like Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs or Charlize Theron in Young Adult. But it shouldn’t be such a challenge to find a “talky” film in wide release during the holiday movie season – one that focuses on women and their lives, their relationships, and their work. From the recent success of Bridesmaids and The Help, we know there is a huge market for such films – but Hollywood can’t seem to make more than one or two a year.

So I guess we’ll be renting Beaches instead.