As with everyone else in the world, I was in love with the Netflix original movie To all the boys I loved before. The sweet storyline, the wonderful and likeable characters, the general aesthetic of the movie and of course its (spoiler alert) happy ending where Peter and Lara Jean kiss on the Lacrosse field. A classic rom-com movie with added benefit of an Asian actor playing the main role. It was received praise by many critics and the title of the film became a meme on twitter, with mostly women changing the title by tweeting things like ‘to all the boys who gave me an inch of basic common decency and I mistook that for a mile of love’ and ‘to all the boys I’ve told my friends about too soon’ . And with major publications claiming between this, Set It Up and Crazy Rich Asians, we are seeing the beginning of resurgence of the rom-com. Now, I love a rom com as much as the next person, I have seen Dirty Dancing and When Harry met Sally several times, but perhaps in this cultural change of women wanting more from movies and television to show the complexities of women, we can make other female-centric movies with slightly more realism about love and life. Not just realistic movies that involve a women in male setting like many movies have done to create the heinous ‘strong lead female character’, like in movies such as Kill Bill. Instead everyday events that happen to women that strike accord. There has been some improvement in showing the complexities in how women feel about sex, love, work and female friendships like in shows like Fleabag, Girls and Jane the Virgin but it’s best shown in novels.
Female friendships have been attempted to be seen on both the small and big screen but have failed to make a real impact. In the long read for the newspaper the Guardian about how the male glance affects our views on female-centric art, the journalist Lili Loofbourow says that in TV and films ‘female friendships come in two strains: conventional jealousy or the even less appealing non-plot of saccharine love. The third narrative possibility, frenemy-cum-friend, is only slightly less shallow’. And she asks the question; Who wants to consume these stories? Female friendships are much more diverse than that. A great example of the discussion of female friendships is in journalist and podcaster Dolly Alterton’s memoir, Everything I know about love. Her stories of failed romances, struggling with her career and finances, and awkward party throwing show a vulnerability in her that many women in their twenties have. At the crux of her memoir, is her relationships with her friends, particularly her best friend Farly. The love they have for each other, the complexity of their relationship as they get older and get into long-term romantic relationships and the realisation that their relationship with each other is just as important as their relationship with their boyfriend or partner. Much of the critique for the memoir was that nothing extraordinary happens to Dolly but that’s not the point. It’s the shared experience that happens to women in their twenties trying to grow up and be the best you can be in every aspect of you life and failing sometimes. That these ordinary experiences are still important.
The novels Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue and how do you like me now? by Holly Bourne, while different books in the sense that O’Donoghue’s novel, about how a 26 year old woman falls into a relationship with her much older boss which slowly turns into a thriller and Bourne’s book, about how a 32 year old woman who is a lifestyle guru with a bestselling self-help book but is in fact filled with a lot of self hatred and bitterness. Both novels are great examples of how someone in a relationship can gaslight you. In Bourne’s novel, the female protagonist doesn’t understand why her boyfriend doesn’t even want to touch her anymore, let alone have sex with her and he’s able to flip the switch on her by saying it’s because ‘she’s too needy’ which makes him not want to be with her. While in O’Donoghue’s novel, her older boss manipulates and seduces her on a everyday basis. In regards of her work, he gaslights her, making it seem to their colleagues he came up with all her ideas for their work project. Both characters struggled with their female friendships and their careers. Both end in a similar way with the ending being that both women have left their toxic and manipulative relationships behind them knowing they deserve a lot better and move back home to start over. It leads me to the conclude that a female centric movie can end with the woman with not the traditional happy ending of having the great career and love interest, but leaving the toxic relationship or job for her own well being . That her happy ending is instead starting over again, even if it seems scary.
But TV and movies may be slowly coming around yet. Lady Bird was important because it showed what it’s like for a working class girl to grow up and adapt to life, love and family. It was also a wonderful portrayal of motherhood, which has been sneered upon for too long in this art form. And then we have Sally Rooney’s Man Booker nominated new novel, Normal People, which is about to be adapted to TV by the BBC. Its’ discussion about the male character struggling with sex and anxiety while the female character, Marianne is very comfortable in her sexuality, flips the conversation of sex on its head and also ending the book not knowing whether they will be together, might change how we look at relationships in TV and film. No one’s life finishes by kissing the popular gorgeous boys con the sports pitch. Life is so much more complicated than that and women know that. So let us see things on the screen that reflect that.
By Ailbhe Longmore – Arts Editor