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Monday 23 July 2018

Wonder women need to take lead in movies

Scarlett Johansson's film 'Rough Night' is a bad example of a good point

Ilana Glazer as Frankie watches bride-to-be Jess (Scarlett Johansson) get a lap dance that goes wrong in ‘Rough Night’
Ilana Glazer as Frankie watches bride-to-be Jess (Scarlett Johansson) get a lap dance that goes wrong in ‘Rough Night’

Aine O'Connor

Scarlett Johansson is absolutely right. The paying public do need to lead Hollywood executives to sense, vote with their wallets and show that female-led films are bankable. Talking to the Press Association about her film Rough Night, which is released in Ireland this weekend, Johansson said: "I think the audience has to be vocal and demand what they want to see and that they want diversity and that they want stories that reflect the zeitgeist." In recent times, an aspect of that zeitgeist has been around the absence of diversity in film. Rough Night, a film led by five female characters, is in theory a prime example of that. However, it ends up feeling like it's cashing in on a sentiment, rather than leading it.

Feminism is not about women being the same as men. It's about embracing difference and enjoying equality. Similarly, female-led films work when they embrace the feminine view in whatever context that may be. There is a notion abroad that the male perspective is inherently accessible to everyone but that the female perspective will alienate men. So there was no great surprise when the The Hangover, with its largely male gaze, had broad cross-gender appeal. However, there was surprise that Bridesmaids, with its largely female gaze, was loved by women and men.

A specific gender perspective is not a problem and alienates few people as long as it is authentic, as it was in both The Hangover and Bridesmaids. Rough Night lacks that genuineness because it has created female roles that mimic male ones. It is entirely contrived as a comedy and fails miserably because it comes across as fake, has one-dimensional characters and a derivative plot. Jess (Johansson) is a would-be politician who goes on her hen party with four college friends. They get trolleyed, they go wild, they accidentally kill a stripper (Very Bad Things is what that reminds you of).

Female conversation can rival male conversation for filth any day, but sometimes it is just conversation. Rude is not intrinsically funny, swearing is not intrinsically funny, and penis references are not intrinsically funny. Not unless you're nine. Sadly, no one told director and co-writer Lucia Aniello.

It is ironic that the closest the female-led comedy comes to being funny is the small parts that focus on the stag party, Jess's fiance Peter (Paul W Downs, the co-writer) and his friends at a wine tasting.

Dodgy movie notwithstanding, Johansson's point about the need for female-led film is still vital. On the one hand, why the point even has to be made is a bit of a mystery. There's the not insignificant fact that women make up a little more than half the world population, and that correlates exactly with the proportion of cinema tickets purchased.

Since the history of movie-making began, some of the best, most iconic films have been led by females. From Sunset Boulevard to Breakfast at Tiffany's, Gone with the Wind, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, My Fair Lady, Thelma and Louise, Alien and Wonder Woman, female characters have entered history and made millions.

The fact remains that white males lead most movies. A UCLA study in 2015 found that 73.4pc of all characters in the top 100 films of 2014 were white men. It's easy to see that investors think that this is where the profit lies, so this is where the investment goes.

There's also the troll factor which skews online perspective. Because of their anonymity, it is difficult to put an exact demographic on internet trolls. However the vast majority of the targets of trolling are female and/or non-white, so draw your own conclusions.

Last year's all-female remake of Ghostbusters was widely trolled, with sustained, vicious internet abuse levelled at it and its stars, Leslie Jones in particular. But trolls are just losers who can't do real life and choose to blame others for that failure. Their bile is not an accurate assessment of real sentiment and female-led films are doing increasingly well.

Over the past few years, there have been rewards for those who have taken a punt on female-led movies. Or at least equally-led films such as The Help, The Hunger Games, the Fifty Shades films, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 1 and 2. The highest grossing films of 2017 so far are both female-led - Beauty and the Beast and Wonder Woman - who, having already kicked Spider-Man's box office butt, is about to whop last year's superhero champions Captain America: Civil War.

Rough Night, Cert 16, now showing

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