It’s been a much-better-than-usual summer for women on screen. We’ve had females leading smart comedies (“Spy,” “Trainwreck”), inspiring blockbusters (“Inside Out,” “Mad Max: Fury Road”), stirring period dramas (“Testament of Youth,” “Far From the Madding Crowd”), and excellent indies (“Amy,” “Tangerine,” “I’ll See You in My Dreams”).
But this wonderful summer’s still not over. Here are five women in August we’re excited to see at the multiplex or at the arthouse:
–Bel Powley in “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” (August 7). “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is an important movie for a couple of
reasons. First, here is a girl played by Bel Powley (in a star-making
performance) who spends the entire movie talking about sex. It’s ’70s
San Francisco, and 15-year-old Minnie is horny. And she is exploring
and making shitty decisions, like sleeping with her mother’s
boyfriend. But she is not guilty, and she is not shamed for them. Her
decisions help her grow. And, oh yeah, she has sex. Lots of sex. Marielle
Heller takes Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel and introduces us to a
young woman whom we have not seen on screen before. Powley just owns
this part. Minnie expresses so many of the things that girls think about
(yes, just as much as boys), and first-time writer-director Heller does
a fantastic job of telling this all-too-rare coming-of-age story in a
colorful, innocent, yet not entirely safe San Francisco.
–Meryl Streep teamed with Diablo Cody in “Ricki and the Flash” (August 7). We were thrilled to hear news of a Meryl Streep-Diablo Cody
collaboration when “Ricki and the Flash” was announced. With Cody’s
penchant for writing multi-faceted female protagonists and Streep’s
ability to turn pretty much any role into a riveting performance, their
pairing seemed like a recipe for success. But we were left cold by the
trailer for “Ricki and the Flash,” which made the drama seem mawkish and
trite. Fortunately, the film’s promotion campaign was to blame — “Ricki”
is as fresh as we’d first hoped. Cody has written a complex character —
a mother who leaves home to pursue her dreams of rock stardom, an
artist and a Republican — and Streep brings Ricki and all of her
contradictions to life beautifully. Ricki isn’t the mom her kids needed,
and she’s certainly not the mom they wanted, but the movie
explicitly deals with the wildly different expectations we have for
parents based on gender. And while Ricki may not be the most “likeable”
character or an award-worthy mom, the film is all the better for it.
–Greta Gerwig in “Mistress America” (August 14). As the titular character in 2012’s “Frances Ha,”
Greta Gerwig nailed the feeling of frustration in being the last among your
friends to move into “responsible adulthood” with an adorable mix of
charm, wit, clumsiness and social awkwardness. In “Mistress America,”
Gerwig has once again teamed up with director Noah Baumbach as co-writer and
star for another millennial portrait centered on female friendship. “Mistress America” looks is set in the same tone, but
even more satirical and screwball-like. Gerwig is hilarious as the vivacious
and self-aware and self-involved freelance interior designer who dazzles her soon-to-be
stepsister (Lola Kirke) with her New York cool. Even though the character has multiple issues and neuroses lurking underneath her confident
surface, we appreciate Gerwig’s celebration of smart, narcissistic women who are often deemed “too much” because they dream big, never shut up and don’t live
according to other people’s expectations.
–Lily Tomlin in “Grandma” (August 21). It’s Lily Tomlin’s year with the premiere of her Netflix series, “Grace and Frankie,” for which she received an Emmy nomination, and now with “Grandma,” in which she plays the coolest, most progressive grandmother ever. Still reeling from the loss of her longtime partner a year ago, Tomlin breaks up with her younger lover (Judy Greer, who has more lines in this movie than all her others this summer), then receives an unexpected visit from her granddaughter (Julia Garner) who needs her grandma’s help to raise money to get an abortion that day. So begins their adventure in search of the money (don’t ask why she doesn’t have it). The journey reminds us how incredibly special an actress Lily Tomlin is. Aside from the great feminist story from Paul Weitz, seeing Lily Tomlin onscreen is every scene is one of the highlights of the summer.
–Regina Casé in “The Second Mother” (August 28). August’s only film with a woman-of-color lead looks to be one of this month’s strongest offerings. Written and directed by Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert (“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”), this mother-daughter drama centers on a live-in maid (Brazilian superstar Regina Casé) whose ungrateful grown daughter repeatedly prods her about why she’s okay being treated like a second-class citizen by the family that employs her. After competing at Sundance and the Berlinale, “The Second Mother” won rave reviews from critics. The Hollywood Reporter, for one, praised Muylaert’s “ingeniously constructed screenplay,” which “passes not only the Bechdel test with flying colors but dissects with both chilling precision and humor such matters as class differences, real mothers vs. caretakers and whether privilege and one’s own station are things that can be questioned or changed.