I covered the world of men writing women back in June, and it's already time to revisit the pen. At the end of July, Variety posted a special collection of articles outlining the Top Ten Screenwriters to keep an eye out for. Unlike most lists, which select only a sliver of female talent (much like the industry as a whole), this ten plays the half and half game. The women who reign supreme: Emma Forrest, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, Mindy Kaling (pictured above with Brenda Withers), Liz Meriwether, and Michelle Morgan.
Six women in a list of twelve screenwriters? (There's a writing duo on each side.) Can't complain about the numbers. There are writers from Harvard and Dartmouth, some who started off as actresses, and one who even made the ginormous leap from reception desks to feature films. They each have a number of projects they're working on, which should bring a lot of female fare to Hollywood. But there's a "but." ... Can you tell?
While these scribes are working on a number of projects ranging from romance to spy capers, it's mostly and essentially all about romantic comedy. Name to name, they're working on romantic underdogs, sluts and "friends with benefits," and class-conscious romcom fare. Emma Forrest's Liars (A-E), which I posted about recently, is about her relationship with Colin Farrell -- and even Halpern and Haskins' Book Smart, which could be about anything when coming from two Harvard grads, is about girls looking for boyfriends at the prom. Meriwether, the pen behind the f**k-buddy script, says: "People want to put women in one box, and I'm interested in how women can be everything at once. She can be a slut who wants to fall in love, or she can party too much, but she's still very smart. I want to expand the vocabulary." That definitely sums up part of the problem. If discussions about women's possibilities, and bursting out of that box, are only tantamount to sexual women who fall in love and smart ladies who party too much, they're still solidly in the box.
On the one hand, I feel uncomfortable even calling these things out, because this success is excellent, and I don't want to diminish that. These women have captured a lot of buzz in Hollywood, and their talents are bringing them success. However, it's like an alcoholic being sober for a week -- a major accomplishment while only being one step forward in a continuing struggle. And it's one further punctuated by a little disappointment. When you're a woman who doesn't mind romcoms but demands a whole lot more from your cinema-going experience, finding out that every single "watch out for" woman is busy with romantic comedy is a bit of a let-down.
On the brighter side, there's some non-romance fare tucked into some of these profiles. Halpern and Hoskins also penned Lunch Lady, which Amy Poehler wants, Kaling is looking toward a dream project that sets Tina Fey as a sexy librarian who kicks butt like Indiana Jones, and Meriwether has that spy caper. One can cross their fingers that, at the very least, Kaling's dream becomes a reality. I'd love to see Fey as the next action icon.
But for now, it's all about the romcoms. One can only hope they're not as ugly as The Ugly Truth, that this success doesn't perpetuate the idea that romantic comedy is all a woman can do/is interested in, and that it's merely a springboard for more varied work. Speaking on the latter, could this be all that Hollywood is buying, and that some of the writers are using this as a springboard for variation (although not Forrest, who seems to be all about the breakup-rant scripts)? I would imagine that if this was the case, that would be mentioned.
Finally, there's such a stigma attached to romantic comedies and that's the biggest rub of all. Not so much that there is a stigma, because it's well-deserved, but that the moniker does two things. One, it sets up immediate disinterest in anyone disappointed with the majority of romantic comedies out there. Two, it makes it really easy to gloss over these scribes' accomplishments. Will the moviegoing world at large, both men and women, pay attention to these scribes when they're all featured as romcom writers? Especially when the men who share the list with these writers have a stable of much more varied fare?