By Shannon Carlin
Feminism means different things to different people. In the simplest terms it’s equality for women and men; when made more complicated, it can be misconstrued as ‘man-hating.’ But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that feminism isn’t perfect.
In an interview with Glamour, comedian and soon to be movie star Amy Schumer talked openly about being a feminist icon, letting the feminists out there know they’re in “good hands with me,” while also making it abundantly clear that she has “no interest in trying to be the perfect feminist.”
No woman is perfect, but often TV and film create female characters that are too good to be true. They’re nothing like real women. They don’t remind us of ourselves or our friends, they’re completely alien. Because of this, they don’t lend themselves to being feminist icons.
And no genre does this more often than romantic comedy, which has always geared itself towards women.
But now thanks to female directors and writers like Schumer, whose new rom-com Trainwreck is for all those women still trying to get their s–t together, we are in a Golden Age of funny, romantic films that are for women, by women. These films feature women who are unapologetically themselves, flaws and all. No manic pixie dream girls here, no way. These films don’t create caricatures, they instead push the boundaries and break down any misconceptions about how a woman should act.
In honor of Schumer’s new movie, which is bound to make any feminist’s must-see list, we’ve come up with a list of 13 rom-coms that are totally accessible to the feminist in all of us.
These films star women who are hot messes. Women who are more consumed with finding a career than finding a man. Women who don’t worry about tripping over things because they have much bigger things to worry about. Women who wear glasses and ponytails without any worry that someone will make them over. Women who want to find themselves before they find someone to marry.
On this list we have female directors, female writers and a whole lot of funny women, who despite what Michael Eisner thinks, look pretty damn good doing it.
These films, the majority of which come post-Bridesmaids, also feature women talking to one other about things that don’t just have to do with men, which should make Alison Bechdel very happy.
1. Bridesmaids (2011)
When it comes to female-friendly comedies, this is a good place to start. It’s the movie that proved the guys in The Hangover aren’t the only ones freaking out about weddings. It also gave us the most hilariously disgusting scene that finally made it clear even women poop. Look away, we could not, Melissa McCarthy. While it’s already nice to see a movie that features seven leading ladies actually talking to one another about something other than men, this one also puts a heavy focus on female friendship—a topic that doesn’t get a ton of love in the rom-com genre—and what happens when that dynamic changes. These women, written by two women, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, are beautifully flawed and often confused, spending a lot of the over two-hour film trying to figure themselves out along with the world around them. They don’t have all they answers. They make mistakes—Wiig’s Annie actually calls a teenage girl a c–t, and we love her all the more for it. Annie gets the guy in the end, but it’s not some kind of happily ever after ending. She still has a lot to figure out (specifically where she’s going to work) making this more of a happy-for-right-now kind of ending.
2. In a World… (2013)
In the competitive world of movie trailer voice-overs, struggling vocal coach Carol Solomon (played by Lake Bell, who also wrote and directed this film) is trying to break the glass ceiling and become the first woman to voice the line “In a world…” in a trailer for a Hungers Games-like blockbuster. Putting an extra spin on things, Carol is going up against her arrogant dad, who is known as the “King of Voice-Overs,” and his protegé. The movie takes a smart look at sexism in the movie industry and what it takes to become the voice of a generation of movie goers. It also takes a different approach to love, which doesn’t just have to be romantic, but can be familial. Love does happen for Carol, but it takes a backseat to her fight to earn this job, which, no spoilers here, you’ll have to watch and see if she actually gets.
3. Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)
This indie rom-com about a straight woman falling in love with another woman was ahead of its time, but now feels right at home amongst all this talk of gender and sexual fluidity. Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt) is a single copywriter in the city looking for love, but just keeps getting stuck on terrible blind dates (seriously, they’re terrible) until she responds to a personal ad from Helen Cooper, a bisexual art gallerist played by Heather Juergensen, who quotes Rilke and has all the same interests as she has. She’s basically the man she always wanted with a vagina. The movie, written by Westfeldt and Juergensen, deals with everything that comes with having an openly same-sex relationship—telling friends and family, dealing with other people’s issues with it. This was back in 2001, but unfortunately, some people still face the same stigmas now. But, more importantly the film is open and honest about what it means to fall in love, and whether you’re dating a man or a woman, it certainly isn’t easy.
4. Obvious Child (2014)
Abortion isn’t usually a laughing matter, but in this Jenny Slate film it is. Slate plays Donna, a comedian who has a one-night stand after getting dumped by her longtime boyfriend and ends up getting pregnant. The film, directed by Gillian Robespierre and co-written Anna Bean and Karen Maine, gets at the confusion that comes with making a life-altering decision like whether or not to have an abortion, but never questions Donna’s decision. Instead the film focuses on what happens after you decide to have an abortion, specifically how it affects you and your relationships. It’s not something most filmmakers are bold enough to tackle, let alone in their first feature film, but Robespierre makes this more than an abortion film—a genre that is certainly not going to catch on anytime soon. It’s a love letter to anyone who’s had to make a tough decision—maybe it’s choosing whether or not to have an abortion, maybe it’s something else—letting them know, you can go on, you can find love, most importantly, you can find yourself.
5. Clueless (1995)
Did you think this was just a teen comedy about a vapid Valley girl? As if! This Amy Heckerling take on Jane Austen’s Emma is about finding one’s self. Or as that Polonius guy said in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” Cher Horowitz is not who she may seem, we can see it as she tries to set her lonely teachers up or takes Tai on as a charitable case, but she has to figure that out on her own. Definitely no easy task when you’re in high school. But, only then will she find true love with her former step brother.
6. Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)
In most romantic comedies, the female protagonist is kooky in a she-always-falls-down-kind-of-way, but not Miranda July—she’s full-on eccentric. In this charming, offbeat film, July, who wrote and directed, is a lonely artist and driver for the elderly dealing with what it means to live and love. It’s not easy for her or any of the other intertwining characters in the movie to make intimate connections, but they keep going on, hoping to find someone who understands. July seemed to understand what the internet would do to love before anyone else, giving us an honest, sad and beautiful look at what falling in love in the modern age is like.
7. 13 Going on 30 (2004)
After a 13-year-old Jenna Rink wishes she could be 30 and flirty and thriving, she wakes up just that. Or so she thinks. Pretty quickly Jenna, played by the adorable Jennifer Garner and out-Big-ing Tom Hanks here, realizes that she’s not the person she thought she’d be. Not even close. Sure, Garner gets to flirt with Mark Ruffalo, playing her childhood best friend Matty, who she left behind years ago, but the movie is really about Jenna figuring out what went wrong all those years ago. 13 Going on 30 touches on the disappointments that sometimes come with growing up, specifically what happens when you become someone you don’t like. Jenna gets a second chance at being the person she wants to be, and the movie makes the case that anyone could do the same, with or without a magic dollhouse.
8. Enough Said (2013)
Director Nicole Holofcener is known for making smart movies about women (Lovely & Amazing, Walking and Talking), and Enough Said doesn’t disappoint. Way before her last f—able day, Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a divorced masseuse who begins a relationship with fellow divorcee Albert (James Gandolfini). Problem is, she just happened to strike up a friendship with his ex-wife, played by Catherine Keener. The movie takes an honest look at what it’s like to date after you realize love doesn’t always last forever. Dreyfus and Gandolfini get at the vulnerability of falling in love after being wounded, making it hard not to root them on.
9. Breaking Upwards (2009)
Zoe Lister Jones and Daryl Wein—who both star in the film, while writing and directing it, respectively—tackle co-dependency and what it can do to a relationship. Real life couple Jones and Wein play two New Yorkers who decide to explore an open relationship rather than go on as they are. It’s their test (one the couple had in real life) to see what other types of monogamy are out there, but of course, this break only leads the two to realize things about themselves they probably wish they hadn’t. This sweet take on what it means to be young and in love attempts to figure out whether two people can grow together and not just grow apart.
10. They Came Together (2014)
David Wain, director of Wet Hot American Summer, managed to fit every imaginable rom-com cliché into one film, but somehow Amy Poehler still keeps it real. That’s because her satire of the classic rom-com gal who is so clumsy she’s constantly falling down steps, but who’s also whipsmart enough to run a business, is hilariously spot-on. With a knowing wink, Poehler makes it clear you don’t have to be this woman (probably best if you’re not), but it doesn’t mean you can’t like these kinds of movies.
11. Phat Girlz (2006)
You don’t have to be a certain weight to find love, but you do have to love yourself. After being told she can’t one too many times, Mo’Nique’s Jazmin Biltmore, a plus-size designer, decides she’s had enough. Her plan? Stop taking “no” for an answer and start being the confident diva she is in her inner monologue. But as Mo’Nique learns, convincing yourself you’re worth it takes a bit of time and sometimes an island vacation. How Mo’Nique got her groove back? We think so.
12. Ruby Sparks (2012)
The manic pixie dream girl is just that, a dream, but in Ruby Sparks this type of girl comes to life right off the page. It’s a page written by novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), a loner who writes his perfect woman who suddenly comes to life looking like Zoe Kazan, the writer of this film and someone who definitely is not interested in being anyone’s dream girl. Kazan instead wrote a film that shows how dangerous it is to reduce a person down to some sort of idea of who they should be.
13. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
This sweet film directed by Colin Trevorrow (who also directed Jurassic World) combines time travel and love for a cosmic take on the rom-com. Aubrey Plaza plays Darius Britt, a college student who is disenchanted with life and interning at a newspaper. She lands an assignment to check out a classified ad looking for a partner on a time-travel adventure. Hilarity ensues as she meets this man out of time (played by Mark Duplass), but it becomes something much more when she starts to fall for this guy, someone who shows us that no matter how old you get, there are still things worth believing in.