Part Two of my catch up series (which will be three instalments) takes a focus on two female-driven movies presented to us amongst the summer flicks. They both concern two very different experiences of womanhood, one blossoming and one in a case of arrested development. Both connect through different means, while both convey a hunger and desire to give women a more potent and righteous voice in Hollywood cinema.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Dir: Marielle Heller)
Summer is all well and good for indulging in the more spectacle driven areas of the Hollywood spectrum, but beneath the fireworks, you can always find a strong indie alternative. The strongest of these this summer was arguably Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, an adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel of the same name. It follows 15 year-old Minnie (Bel Powley) in 1976 San Francisco. An aspiring cartoonist, Minnie is at the cusp of womanhood and is eager to lose her virginity. She soon begins to embark on a roller-coaster of a sexual awakening when she begins an affair with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, Mason (Alexander Skarsgaard).
What is one of the strongest aspects of Heller’s movie is the position it takes in regards to its protagonist experience. We are very much thrust in to the perspective of Minnie as she records her experiences on a tape, allowing us to become engaged with her experiences in a way that allows us to be involved, rather than removed. This position allows the film to take a very un-judgemental stance; whatever opinion you have on Minnie’s actions entirely arise from your own ideology rather than one that the film is trying to enforce on you. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is unique due to its stance and its honesty, never judging its characters, with no being particularly coloured as a bad person, as for the most time they are individuals working on simple human impulses.
Heller has expressed her disappointment at the film receiving an 18-certificate, and rightly so, as the film strikes me as essential viewing for any young woman around the same age as Minnie herself (15-16). While Minnie does things she regrets, the film does not dwell or judge her for such acts but instead depicts each experience as a learning experience, experiences which allow Minnie to grow and become the confident young woman she is come the end of the film. It demonstrates the importance of fucking up, on how much an unpleasant experience can help form the person you are for the better.
Minnie’s experiences do verge on becoming very uncomfortable at points, but all of it is anchored by a truly stunning and star-making turn from Bel Powley. The young British actress convinces whole heartedly as a world-hungry teen, looking to carve out her own identity through both her sexuality and as an artist, with much of the visual quirks coming from her cartoons coming to life around her. She carries the film with ease, bravery and extreme confidence, standing out from a cast which also includes impressive turns from Kristen Wiig and Skarsgaard. 4/5
Trainwreck (Dir: Judd Apatow)
A venture in to Apatow-land is one that I always enter into with trepidation. While I’ve liked his previous directorial credits, every single one of his films suffer from the same issues; over-long, indulgent, too many cameos, and a poor perception of pacing. With Trainwreck, finds himself directing from another person’s script other than his own, penned by star and so-hot-right-now comedienne Amy Schumer. Yet, despite the fact that he ha sno writing credit, his directorial DNA has seeped in to the proceedings, as you get the impression that he had some notes for Schumer to take on, resulting in a film that is very much Schumer’s show, yet with all the pratfalls of an Apatow joint.
Amy plays Amy, a journalist for a Men’s Magazine in New York, and also an individual who believes monogamy is dead, an ideology encouraged since childhood, with her father leaving her mother. As a result, Amy is very much a one night stand kinda gal, never sticking around long enough to forge a relationship of more depth. That all changes when she meets Sports Surgeon Aaron Connors (Bill Hader), a guy who has the nerve to call her after a one night stand. With Amy finding herself falling for the charming Connors, she is forced to reassess her ideologies, and finally face facts about her own maturity and relationships within her life.
If you are familiar with Schumer’s Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer, you will be familiar with her brand of humour, one of brtually funny honesty and sharp observation. That, thankfully, has translated well to the big screen, with Schumer’s script playing like a straight rom-com, just with the ‘man-child’ role reversed and given to a female lead. It’s enough of a spin on the material to mark Trainwreck as something quite different in the pantheon of Hollywood comedies, but also one which plays to a familiar tune. It lampoons as it goes long, particularly in regards to certain tropes and iconography laid down by the likes of Woody Allen and Nora Ephron. She also makes for an engaging lead, delivering smut and sweetness in equal affecting measure.
When it comes to the laugh factor, when Trainwreck hits it is utterly hilarious, and the most I’ve laughed at a film all year (well, the most I’ve laughed at an intentionally funny film). However, there are as many misses as there are hits, with the over-reliance of cameos leading to some very stale gags. John Cena and Lebron James do prove to be very fine comedic actors, but many of their scenes are over-stretched and over-stuffed. Certain plot threads, as well, are not as funny as Schumer and Apatow think they are, with Schumer’s co-workers never landing a decent gag, with Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller being fundamentally under-served and shoe-horned into strange and a little uncomfortable developments.
What does work are the important relationships in the film. Hader is quite wonderful as the affable Connors, while Brie Larson is a welcome sweet presence as Amy’s more grounded younger sister Kim, while the underrated Colin Quinn helps lands the emotional pathos needed to sell Amy’s complex relationship with her ailing father.
Trainwreck is not as subversive as I think some people were hoping it would be, but I think what it does in its role-reversal is enough to mark it as a point of interest in regards to the type of roles we expect in Hollywood comedies. It is more successful than Apatow produced joints, like say Bridesmaids, and is a thoroughly promising Hollywood debut for Schumer, it is just a shame that so much of it falls flat along the way, resulting in a mostly positive mixed bag that has some great laughs to offer along the off-beat road. 3/5