The festive week’s film viewing, rather than including the usual Christmas fare (I didn’t even manage to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol!) for the most part; either reinforced exactly the same ‘magical’ feeling that Christmas is supposed to be about – only in fairytale form or; centred around issues of female identity and gender stereotyping – depending on which way you look at it.
On Christmas eve whilst many round the country were at midnight mass, I was thoroughly enjoying Jennifer’s Body (2009), the Megan Fox starring high-school horror/comedy in which Mean Girls’ Amanda Seyfried dons spectacles to play the titular cheerleaders’ BFF. Diablo Cody’s witty screenplay and Karyn Kusama’s thoughtful direction combine to produce a hugely enjoyable critique of the female teen experience. Not to mention a nice satire of the ubiquity of US indie rock bands. A comment about the myth of PMS comes to take on new meaning when Jennifer (Fox) is possessed by a blood-hungry devil, who – when not satisfied – reduces her appearance to dank hair and pallid skin; or does this ‘beauty’ simply look like every other teenage girl at their ‘time of the month’. Needy (Seyfried) must then find a way to stop Jennifer’s murderous rampage, whilst keeping the friendship intact (or not). Rather than a will-they won’t-they love story, Jennifer’s Body puts female friendship at stake and refreshingly examines loyalty across presumed social barriers. It’s also very funny indeed.
Next up – fairytales and parody in Tangled (2010), Enchanted (2007) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993) – the latter being a film I’ve seen more times than I care to mention. Tangled on release followed The Princess and the Frog (2009) in being a fairytale princess tale harking back to the times of Snow White and Cinderella, but with the twist that their heroines are more autonomous and quit-witted than previous incarnations of the Disney female. Tangled’s Rapunzel may be surrounded by fairytale archetypes such as the mean witch/mother who won’t let her out of her tower but she determinedly breaks out of her comfort zone to pursue her own goal.
Likewise, in Enchanted, Giselle – having been pushed out of fairytale land Andalasia and into Manhattan – ends up fighting the evil queen to save the man she loves, rather than marry the traditional prince with whom she is supposed to share true loves’ kiss. In Sleepless in Seattle, Meg Ryan’s Annie fantasises that a man she has never met could be ‘the man of her dreams’ and we, the audience are complicit in the fantasy as Nora Ephron’s sweet and clever film persuades us of the couple’s compatibility with a huge bucket of charm. Believing in a fairytale, whether you’re aware of it or not is a simple part of life, apparently. In my festive line up of fantasy females though, I think Jennifer and Needy win.
HBO/BBC’s The Girl also dealt with female autonomy and male sexual fantasy whereby the fairytale of Hollywood stardom comes with a heavy price. Sienna Miller and Toby Jones portrayed Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock during the making of the legendary directors iconic films, The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964) and Hitch is shown to have manipulated his star, sexually harassed her and put her under physical and emotional distress. Based on interviews with Hedren and members of Hitchcock’s crew, Gwyneth Hughes and Donald Spoto’s screenplay nevertheless makes it hard not to question the veracity of the events portrayed, as Hitch comes off as a sleazy, impotent creep, an image contrary to the loveable, black-humoured national treasure he is considered by many to be. Indeed it has been reported that Hitchcock’s former crew have spoken out about his portrayal in The Girl claiming that he has been misrepresented. Truth or fiction aside, the level of period detail and recreation of film sets and locations is a singular achievement and Miller and Jones both perform with conviction and authentic emotion.
Getting back to the cinema I was thrilled to see Keep the Lights On by Ira Sachs. Unfortunately I hadn’t managed to avoid the praise for this film (I like to keep an open mind) but nevertheless it proved to be an intelligent and mature approach to a contemporary romance about a couple, one half of which is struggling with drug addiction. Thure Lindhardt as Erik was a luminous, enchanting presence on screen and well matched by Zachary Booth as his troubled boyfriend, Paul. That it was shot on super 16 film not only renders the whole film completely gorgeous but lends the aesthetic a romantic feel and grounds the form in line with its protagonists profession as a filmmaker – cinematographic warmth translates to deep affection for the characters, indicating a very personal story. The use of Arthur Russell on the soundtrack is also an excellent element that coheres with the emotion of the screenplay demonstrating a freshness that saves it from sentimentality.
Coming soon, my most memorable – rather than best of – 2012 and a list of those I’d rather forget.