Two of the biggest prestige films of 2007 -- "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" -- had a few things in common. They were both filmed in Marfa, Texas. They both had cryptic-weird titles. Oh, and they also featured almost no women. The same can be said for this summer's spate of blockbusters, traditionally a fan boy's stomping ground, from "Iron Man" to the new Indiana Jones movie and Ed Norton's upcoming "Hulk."
It's no surprise to find women in the margins of Hollywood films, but these days, they've been all but pushed off the screen. "Welcome to the new, post-female American cinema," writes Manohla Dargis in a great piece in the New York Times. Even romantic comedies -- usually the stronghold of highly paid actresses like Reese Witherspoon and Julia Roberts -- have been anchored by men of late: Patrick Dempsey in "Made of Honor," not to mention the tender, blubbering, emasculated goofballs of Judd Apatow's comedies. A year after a Warner Bros. executive reportedly sneered that he would never make movies with a female lead, Dargis writes, "All you have to do is look at the movies themselves -- at the decorative blondes and brunettes smiling and simpering at the edge of the frame -- to see just how irrelevant we have become."
I'm certainly not crying in my Häagen-Dazs for the days of "Sweet Home Alabama," but it's still frustrating to see strong, difficult, complex, compelling female characters so painfully missing from the movie screen. Sure, it has always been a small coterie, but this summer seems especially depressing -- young Abigail Breslin, so spunky and endearingly odd in "Little Miss Sunshine," has gone blond for an (ack!) American Doll movie; that bastion of feminine strength and beauty, Meryl Streep, is slumming it up in "Mamma Mia!" ("Sex and the City" is slated for the summer, but Dargis dismisses those characters as "gay men in drag.")
Of course, we can't discuss women in film without acknowledging a certain economic bottom line. After all, Hollywood clamors for the almighty dollar. As my colleague Rebecca Traister wrote in the introduction to a round table with female Hollywood executives last year, "You can bet that the weekend on which audiences line up around the block to get into a Barbara Jordan biopic is the weekend studios all over Tinseltown green-light a slate of movies about black, wheelchair-bound lesbians."
Which is why it's encouraging to note the strong opening for "Baby Mama," the recent Tina Fey and Amy Poehler buddy flick. It may be, by most accounts, a middling comedy saved by the charms of its leads, but its success suggests there's a real hunger for smart, funny female heroines.