From the femme fatale to the damsel in distress, film conventions haven’t always been the most flattering for women. Historically confined to roles that cater to men in one way or another, it’s only recently that we’re starting to see a new class of character.
And it’s about damn time.
Forget traditional depictions of femininity and check out ‘A Simple Favour‘ to get your fix of powerful women.
The film ‘A Simple Favour‘ stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as two very different mothers who become unlikely friends after a series of playdates with their children â€” only for Lively’s character Emily to vanish without a trace.
In a swirl of French music, pantsuits, gin and NSFW art, Kendrick’s character Stephanie becomes swept up in the intrigue and drama of her friend’s disappearance, uncovering sordid details about both of their pasts in the process.
The two leading ladies (three rare words even in contemporary cinema) couldn’t be more different from each other but both still represent a facet of femininity â€” while simultaneously being utterly unhinged.
But why is it so important to see that?
Female representation in film is a sore point because we’ve only occasionally started getting it right recently – too recently. It’s important to be able to see a full spectrum of female characters on our screens.
Women who aren’t the typical portrayal of femininity. Women from different backgrounds. Women with different motivations. Women who aren’t the ‘good guys’. Women who don’t just get together to discuss men (anything that doesn’t pass the Bechdel test is out).
But ultimately, it’s the exploration of femininity that really takes the cake when you see ‘A Simple Favour’.
On the one hand we have Kendrick’s Stephanie, embodied as the epitome of the ‘perfect mother’. She’s a simperingly sweet single mum who volunteers for everything and wears cute patterned dresses.
There’s an ‘oopsie’ jar in her house for cursing, she owns a helium tank for balloons and runs her own mummy vlog. Stephanie is the typified ideal of motherhood in human form; every last stereotype rolled into one (petite, of course) package.
Conversely, Lively’s Emily is the foul-mouthed, detached, suit-wearing boss who takes every opportunity to remind Stephanie not to diminish herself or apologise for anything.
She sculls straight gin, openly denigrates her own parenting skills and is unabashedly sexual in her behaviour. Emily also hides a secret, the likes of which only serves to widen the divide between her and Stephanie.
But when Emily vanishes, the different elements of their behaviour start to blur.
And that development of nuanced femininity isn’t exclusive to ‘A Simple Favour‘. Hell, it’s not even exclusive to film.
Take Jackie Weaver’s character in Perpetual Grace. Her name is literally ‘Ma’, positioning her with the same type of maternal femininity that Stephanie embodies.
Yet there’s a depth and darkness to the role that is only made possible by the fact that we’ve come so far in developing female characters – and that’s not even getting started on female characters of a certain age.
Again, that’s not to say that she’s not feminine. It’s just part of the balance. We’re finally seeing a wave of characters that are allowed to exhibit feminine behaviours without exclusively living them.
And that’s the point when we discuss movies like ‘A Simple Favour‘. Femininity isn’t a crutch or disadvantage. It’s not even a defining factor. It’s the result of other traits coming together to form a well-rounded character.
Each character is feminine (and sexual) in their own way, each has their own undercurrent of craziness – a craziness that encompasses another important issue in and of itself.
Sure, in the past women have been allowed to be the unhinged characters because hey, hysteria was a thing that people believed women experienced.
But nowadays they’re given the scope to be unhinged with depth. They’re not just crazy for the sake of being crazy. They have backstory and context, and they’re more than just irrationality.
And that’s the whole point – Depth. The fact that it’s also entertaining as hell? Not incidental.