A recent study discovered that a shocking 72 percent of the characters in kids’ films are male, and, in fact, most of the films I’ve reviewed so far bear that out. So it was with high hopes that I grabbed my daughter and her friend Jordan and headed out to see a couple of promising movies with female leads.
First we headed for an undisguised mini-chick flick, "Aquamarine." If nothing else, I can tell you that girl power movies do have an audience--the theater was packed with girls, moms, and aunts, with only a couple of lost-looking dads and grandpas sprinkled about.
The story follows two best friends in the last week of summer, before one of them must move far away from Florida. They both spend all their time reading teen magazines and crushing on a gorgeous surfer-dude lifeguard, who is obviously too old (and too cool) for them. Then, one night after a storm, a mermaid washes up in the beach club’s swimming pool. For no believable reason, she has two days to prove to her Neptunian father that human love exists--and she immediately zeros in on said lifeguard. The two girls agree to help her out, in hopes of earning the wish the mermaid can grant them.
Here is where my conflicted feelings come in. Both girls I brought with me thought this was the best movie they’d ever seen (admittedly, a title bestowed more than once already this year). All the main characters--good, bad, and indifferent--were female, except the hunky lifeguard-as-eye-candy. A nice turnabout, to be sure. And it was certainly fun to have this theater full of girls relating to the world’s worst possible crisis: the losing of your BFF (Best Friend Forever). My daughter has faced this several times already, and it’s truly wrenching, This audience of tweeners also obviously got the whole “trying to catch his eye” thing, and the delicious agony of crushing on boys who are impossibly out of your league, at least age-wise. They loved the showing-up the spiteful girl scenes, and the female bonding scenes.
And yet, part of me couldn’t help but be sorry that we finally got a true girl movie, and it was so frivolous, kind of every young male’s worst nightmare of what empty-headed, giggly girls are about. The boys don’t come off much better--the eye-candy lifeguard was apparently just waiting for the right naïve, up-for-anything, stacked blonde mermaid to wander by.
Part of my disappointment also was that this was based on a novella by Alice Hoffman, a wonderful writer who expertly explores the rich, mythic territory of children crossing over into adulthood.
Yet the girls really enjoyed it, and they’re not the giggly-preteen-magazine set, but it is a part of young girl’s life that they understood. The very ending is certainly a Girl Power Statement, and I guess it’s not fair to insist that girl movies be held to standards any higher than their boy bonding counterparts.
She's the Man
If you want to find an author who wrote bang-up roles for both women and men, you need look no farther than William Shakespeare. The new Amanda Bynes movie, "She's the Man," is based on “Twelfth Night,” one of Shakespeare’s best-known comedies.
Of course, back in Elizabethan England, the device of women being disguised as men, and vice versa, for comedic purposes was an accepted device--especially since male actors were playing all the parts, anyway. You didn’t have to really think twins Viola and Sebastian could be mistaken for each other, you just went with it to see what complications the playwright could come up with.
This is more difficult in the age of movies and 40-foot close-ups. I never really got past the fact that Viola, masquerading as her brother Sebastian, looked like a twerp among jocks, nor did I believe that hottie Olivia would ever look at him/her twice.
That being said, it was really fun to watch the familiar story unfold in a modern-day setting. When musician twin Sebastian runs off to London to play in a festival with his band, his twin sister Viola dresses like him to go to his new school (Ilyria Prep) and get onto the varsity soccer team. She wants to show her old coach, who cut the girls’ team and refused to let the girls try out for the boys’ team, that girls can play just as well.
"She’s the Man" explores the same territory of youthful sexual politics and angst that "Aquamarine" does, only ratcheted up from junior high to high school. It’s witty and textured and every bit as improbable as "Twelfth Night," but it’s fun to go along for the ride.
"She’s the Man" is rated PG-13 for some sexually-confused situations. (These include: Viola binding her breasts to look flat and trying to find a time to shower unwatched in the boy’s bathroom, as well as some tampon jokes, though all of them are the kind of jokes that if you’re too young, they’ll just go right by you.)
I took two boys and two girls, and my former-theater-director husband to see this one, and it got a unanimous thumbs up. I think it’s best enjoyed by those who have a passing knowledge of "Twelfth Night" (not something you hear often about teen movies!), but it’s certainly not required.