Saturday 17 August 2019

Tanya Sweeney: 'Where does the trainwreck female character go from here?'

Amy Schumer's character in Trainwreck paved the way
Amy Schumer's character in Trainwreck paved the way

Tanya Sweeney

Question: have we reached Peak Ladyshambles? I only ask because it seems as though every 'strong, feisty' female character in film or TV in recent times is fitting a rather uniform mould.

She has, to put it in rather delicate terms, 'yet to find her place to land in the world'. More bluntly, she is fond of a swear, a shag and a boozy session, not necessarily in that order and often with disastrous consequences. She is, more often than not, oxter-deep in existential dread, sexual dysfunction, addiction, low-level mental health challenges and a general aversion to playing by the rules.

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Each of them are magnificent comedy/dramedy creations in and of themselves: leading the charge was Lena Dunham's Hannah Horvath, with Amy Schumer's character in Trainwreck following not far behind. There has also been Roisin Conaty's Marcella (GameFace), Aisling Bea's Aine (This Way Up), Amy Huberman's Joy (Finding Joy), to name a few.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge's titular thirtysomething in Fleabag hid her simmering neuroses under a sharp bob and slash of scarlet lipstick, and the result - we are never short of hearing - has been wondrous. The point being, we are positively drowning in anti-heroes. Or anti-heroines.

Each of these women is mired in career uncertainty, like a great many of their generation are in the current gig economy. Most of them are lurching from one unfulfilling, borderline humiliating sexual encounter to the next. Their family members shower them in sympathetic platitudes and quizzical looks.

There's always a 'straight' sibling, friend or colleague on hand as foe or foil. They absolutely kill it on a dancefloor. They are natty dressers with their fake furs and vintage tea dresses, with Insta-ready homes to boot, though they've almost certainly had their debit card rejected in Tesco, while buying tampons and gin. These characters are the results, the beacons and the formidable idols of our times.

The problem is, there's too many of them. The shows are starting to have a depressing commonality in style and tone. And, this is certainly tantamount to committing treason if you've got a set of ovaries, but this cultural bottleneck is starting to get a bit dull. Even our most lovably sensible basic bitch, the titular character in Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght's Oh My God, What A Compete Aisling, is rumoured to be hitting an existential crisis as she nears 30 in the book series' next instalment.

It's certainly easy to see the appeal, as there is plenty of richly gratifying comedy to be mined from this female thirty-something experience.

The best comedy comes from the brave, the confessional and the relatable, and each of these vehicles has no shortage of same. And for a very long time, this female archetype was without a voice in pop culture, or was rarely seen as anything other than a figure of pity. Now, they are figures to aspire to, to have a crush on, and to admire - peccadilloes and all.

Whatever the circumstances of these anti-heroines, it's rare that a female viewer (and many male ones, come to think of it) won't relate to some or all of it.

Most of us thought our 30s would look different. We thought we'd get to take our foot off the gas in our careers. We thought we'd no longer be living in flatshares. Most of us are still waiting for the good times to roll. No wonder we drink.

It's great, too, that we have put the 'one female comedy a year' situation behind us. If anything, the opposite has happened, and every scheduler or controller wants to fill that Fleabag-shaped hole. But this becomes a slight problem when every female-fronted comedy becomes the new Fleabag, and 'female-fronted' becomes a genre in and of itself. And if we are at Peak Ladyshambles, where does this leave the future?

The female experience, and the thirtysomething worldview at that, is much more than shuddering at responsibility, kicking it to the patriarchy, getting laid and rolling your eyes at mum. With any luck, the next wave of female comedy writers can move beyond the trainwrecks to show us just that.

Irish Independent

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