The other day, a blog entry from the cinetrix about "The Rule" evoked a flood of memories from my love-movies-hate-the-patriarchy college days. In 1989, my then-roommate's then-girlfriend showed me a comic strip from the series Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. The strip was called "The Rule" and it was about a character who explained that she only went to movies that met three criteria:
1. Two of the characters had to be women --
2. Who talked with each other --
3. About something other than a man.
Read the original strip for yourself. At the time, "The Rule" had a big impact on my life -- it explained a lot about what I found lacking in movies. I wanted to watch strong action heroines, but I also wanted to see movies with women who talked about ordinary stuff that didn't involve boyfriends or husbands. Recently, discussions about "The Rule" -- also known these days as The Bechdel Rule -- have been working their way around the internet, often with notes about how this summer's blockbusters fall far short of the standard. (One memorable discussion focuses on whether Sex and the City applies ... the women do talk about accessories, after all.) Instead of sighing about how many movies don't follow The Bechdel Rule, I decided to find seven recent films I liked that do meet the criteria, preferably Hollywood films. This was a much tougher task than even my cynical feminist self would have imagined.
One film that opens this week meets The Bechdel Rule handily -- The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. Sure, the young women talk about their love lives, but also about families, careers and of course those magical pants. When looking for films that met the criteria, I noticed that many of them were young-girl or teen-girl films, from Mean Girls to Bend It Like Beckham. In fact, I couldn't compile this list without including movies about teenagers (I tried, and nearly pulled out my hair in frustration). Kim Voynar cited some of these too in her list of smart movies for girls. Let me know in the comments what else I should have included.
1. Grindhouse (Death Proof)
Groups of women friends talk and talk (and talk) throughout Death Proof, about their sex lives and their boyfriends and the music they like and other trademark Quentin Tarantino topics. However, there's that one conversation with Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Tracy Thorn that centers around cars, and cars in movies, and one car they are itching to drive. How often do you get to hear four women talk about muscle cars? The subsequent stunts by Zoe Bell are just icing on the cake. Tarantino previously offered us another movie that followed The Bechdel Rule, Kill Bill, in which The Bride trades barbs with several women she's about to do battle with ... not to mention that scene in the hotel room.
I find the dialogue in this movie to be really annoying at times, but at least it covers a range of pop culture topics. You can't get away from the subject of sex or relationships in this movie -- the main character is pregnant -- but that doesn't mean that the women focus solely on the opposite sex. Admittedly, most of Juno MacGuff's conversations with other women do tend to be related to her pregnancy, but that's technically allowed under the Bechdel Rule.
Both the 2007 version and the 1989 (my favorite) meet the Bechdel Rule standards. Tracy Turnblad does have a big crush on Link Larkin, but that doesn't seem quite as important to her as dancing, keeping her hair bouffant, and fighting social injustices (sometimes all at once). Hairspray may be a fluffy musical, but it has plenty of teenage girls and their moms, as well as deejay Motormouth Maybelle, and they're far more than foils for the menfolk. (I wanted to include Mamma Mia!, and realized that although it's full of female characters, they really do only talk about the male characters.)
I know I said I wanted to focus on Hollywood films, but I couldn't resist mentioning this French film from 2007. The film is animated, but it's hardly for children. Marjane is an Iranian girl who grows up during the Islamic Revolution during the 1980s. She has some romantic encounters, but I love watching the child who wants to be like Bruce Lee as she gets in trouble in her teen years for listening to rock music, and eventually has to come to terms with how she feels about her homeland. I'm especially fond of her conversations with her grandmother, who is voiced by Catherine Deneuve.
5. Bring It On
It's another teenage-girl movie, and it's about cheerleading, which is not exactly Higher Thought. Still, most movies about girls who participate in athletics or dance tend to focus on just one girl who lives for her sport or practices with the guys, and doesn't seem to have a lot of female friends. In Bring It On, we get a whole team, headed by Kirsten Dunst, with Eliza Dushku as the reluctant new cheerleader. One girl might be interested in the other girl's brother, but mostly these girls are interested in becoming cheerleading champions. Speaking of cheerleaders, I very nearly included But I'm a Cheerleader on this list, but then realized that three of the seven movies would include women in cheerleader outfits and that just seemed too damn weird.
6. Set It Off
I had to go back to 1996 for this one, but I've only seen it myself in the last year and I think it could use some attention. Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Viveca A. Fox and Kimberly Elise star in this F. Gary Gray film about a group of women with big-time money problems who see a possible solution in robbing banks. It takes longer to get underway than I'd like, and the ending didn't quite satisfy me, but I loved the female characters in this film, particularly Smith's and Queen Latifah's. They tend to have much bigger and more interesting problems than romance. (And I'm starting to wonder if Queen Latifah uses the Bechdel Rule to pick roles, because it's amazing how many of the films she's in that fit the criteria.)
7. Cold Comfort Farm
As long as we're going back to the 1990s, I might as well include Cold Comfort Farm, a film I love to bits. John Schlesinger directed this adaptation of Stella Gibbons' novel (which I also love) about a young woman in 1930s England who decides to move in with, and reform, her country cousins. Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale) has to mull over her future with her friend Mrs. Smiling (Joanne Lumley), and then once she arrives at Cold Comfort Farm, dispenses advice to both male and female relatives whose lives just aren't tidy enough to suit her. I especially like the fate of Aunt Ada Doom.