New York Times critic A. O. Scott recaps the year in Heroine Worship, when it was still news that women can actually carry a movie that scores at the box office. He writes: “There is a smattering of evidence to support the impression that [things have changed], because 2012 was, all in all, a pretty good year for movies and also a pretty good year for female heroism.” But why, he asks, do we still need to make a fuss about heroines such as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” or Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”? The way our culture rushes “to celebrate movies about women has a way of feeling both belated and disproportionate,” writes Scott. It should not be a big deal when these films exist–rather “it should have been a bigger deal when such movies didn’t.”
The subjects often become unduly criticized and held accountable, like “Girls” creator-star Lena Dunham, who was “not quite allowed just to explore her own ideas and experiences. She was expected to get it right, to represent, to set an example and blaze a path,” Scott writes.
As for the new millenium, Scott reminds us of what had become of the comedy genre before “Bridesmaids” unnecessarily shocked people by its very existence:
“Movie comedy, once a lively, if tilted, battlefield of the sexes, regressed into an aggressive puerility that was the flip side of macho superhero self-pity. The big joke, repeated endlessly (and sometimes wittily) in Adam Sandler vehicles, school-of-Apatow farces and up-from-mumblecore slackfests is that guys can reject all the traditional trappings of maturity — jobs, manners, hygiene — and that girls will sleep with them anyway. And the girls in these movies are not called on to do much else, except be mommies, nice or mean, symbolic or actual. They can serve as the object of or the audience for the guys’ jokes but rarely the agents of humor in their own right.”
Scott’s piece accompanies a portfolio of thirteen actresses (among them would-be awards contenders Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Lawrence, Naomi Watts, Keira Knightley, Elle Fanning, Anne Hathaway and Emmanuelle Riva), in order “to acknowledge the range and depth of 13 remarkable and very different actresses, and also to convey, through the suggestive medium of pictures and words, an array of intriguing, troubling, inspiring and contradictory possibilities.”
After all, writes Scott, “the things that women do — the people they insist on being — remain endlessly controversial.”