First quarters are typically not kind to movie fans, as January and February have long been viewed as the slop bucket (“the dump months,” even) of the multiplex – although that was not always the case, and plenty of good films have opened during these winter months in recent years, just look at The Grey – providing release dates to films that just didn’t fit elsewhere. It may be a bit of a stigma at this point, but just take a look back at some of the offerings that hit the big screen over the past few weeks, like Taken 3, Mortdecai, The Boy Next Door, The Loft, Jupiter Ascending (apologies if you are a JA apologist, but come on now), Seventh Son, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and Unfinished Business.
It’s been rough out there, but it’s also been particularly unkind to women, thanks to a series of releases that place a premium on sex and danger – hey, The Boy Next Door and Fifty Shades of Grey – without much else to offer. There have been some high points, however, like three very well-performing female-directed features (again, Fifty Shades and then also Selma, which saw expanded release in January, and McFarland, USA), but when it comes to moviegoers that want to see actually, well, shaded female characters in their blockbusters, the pickings have been slim. That changes this weekend.
This Friday sees the release of a pair of films that feature strong female leads that will appeal to not just a lady-centric audience, but also a wide one. That each film is excellent on their own accord is both icing on the cake and entirely necessary. The closest this year has come to offering up a variety of female-centric picks over one weekend was back in January, when The Boy Next Door, Song One, and Cake all opened on January 23. The problem, of course, was that none of those films were any good, and having a variety of bad things to pick from is about as satisfying as having nothing to pick from (in fact, it might be worse).
In the wide release arena, Disney’s Cinderella presents a live-action take on the classic Princess tale which, admittedly, sounds dead boring from the outside. The surprise of the Kenneth Branagh film is that it’s not boring, and it’s also genuinely charming and sweet and family-friendly. It’s just satisfying, and it comes without a drop of irony (after seeing the film this week, a fellow member of the press all but stumbled out of the theater, gasping to a pal, “there’s no irony here, that never happens,” which obviously isn’t really true but still speaks to the power of the picture). That’s hard to find during this quarter, no matter what kind of film you’re looking for or which genre you’re compelled to enjoy.
For so long, Disney and its ilk have been preoccupied with reinventing fairy tales, giving us gritty or dark or new takes on old stuff that people love and love dearly, and that Cinderella doesn’t do that and is still exciting and emotional is nothing but good news. Can this be a trend? Please? The film also comes complete with a new short, Frozen Fever, that continues the female-centric mirth of Frozen with a good song and some creepy-cute little snowmen to boot. It’s a double feature of delight, something that this season has so far been sorely lacking no matter who is starring in your film.
Not into the fairy tale thing? Like, really not into the fairy tale thing? David Robert Mitchell has a treat for you. The Myth of the American Sleepover filmmaker excels at putting true-feeling teen stories on the big screen, and he’s effectively adapted that skillset to the horror genre with It Follows. A sexy horror film with a twist, the Detroit-set feature stars the wonderful Maika Monroe as a teen who gets infected with something after a sexual encounter with a local hunk. It’s not an STD and it’s not a ghost, but it’s kind of…both? The film is scary and cool and engaging, and it’s only bolstered by its blisteringly true portrayal of teen life (if Mitchell just wants to spend his career making movies about teens, that would please me greatly) and a score so good that it can only be called a masterpiece.
It will get under your skin, and that’s actually a good thing for a movie that’s ostensibly about disease.
There’s also Home Sweet Hell, which isn’t easy to recommend to anyone but the most hardcore of Katherine Heigl fans. They have to be out there, right? If they are, they’ll likely love Heigl going just kind of batshit in the feature, which sees her as a Type A wife and mother who goes certifiably nuts when her husband cheats on her. It’s not a good movie, but then again, we did say there was something for everyone this weekend, and that includes people who enjoy bad movies.
It’s too early to call this a true trend, but even an errant look at the upcoming release schedule reveals plenty of upcoming female-centric films worth looking forward to, including The Divergent Series: Insurgent; Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, Spring, Effie Gray, Woman In Gold, Clouds of Sils Maria, The Sisterhood of Night, Alex of Venice, The Age of Adaline, and Gloria, all of which will hit theaters in the coming weeks. If it’s better for women, it’s better for all of us.