Female Directors? Whoop-doo!
The plight of the female film director has been dissected, discussed, and weighed against the conformation of politics in the world of cinema since the dawn of the medium. Even now, in the year 2009, only seven percent of the filmmakers in our Director's Guild of America database have lovely lady lumps (this does not include Francis Ford Coppolla, Neil LaBute, or Michael Moore). I speak with film directors nearly every single week, and only on the very rare occasion do they happen to be women. Not since March of 2008's Stop Loss has a prominent female director taken the helm of a big budget action flick. Kimberly Peirce's wartime ode to military homecomings had a violent urgency that propelled it past its contemporary counterparts. Sadly, it was lost in the pre-summer shuffle and discounted as a dour piece of anti-war propaganda. In October of 2008, Courtney Hunt released Frozen River, one of the most harrowing dramatic thrillers of that year. The film earned Melissa Leo an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, and a best screenplay nomination for Hunt. Despite these accolades, Frozen River disappeared from the American conscious quite quickly. Then, of course, Catherine Hardwicke jumped behind the lens of Twilight, only to see the popular franchise handed off to a man. That was nine months ago.
It's June, and we're only now seeing some estrogen released back amongst our Cineplex seats. Three truly great female film directors are unleashing their latest projects this month. No small feat considering each film is quite exceptional and unique in its tone and emotional ambience. Even if you don't wholly buy into the concept, or just plain hate romantic comedies in general, there is no denying the electrical bolt of vivacious hilarity locked deep inside Anne Fletcher's upcoming The Proposal. The plot is ridiculous, but Fletcher is able to lift it far above its intended groping. In person, Fletcher is a spirited shot of intoxicating cheerfulness. She exudes an effervescent fizz that has soaked into her work, giving it a unique sheen that is unlike the rom-com's loosely built by her male counterparts. Fletcher started in the business as a choreographer, and the high stakes energy required of that profession has definitely found its way into her first cinematic stab at comedy. The script, written by Pete Chiarelli, came as a for-hire job. Hopefully, this will propel her into a project of her own making. Just as The Proposal opens this weekend, the woman has gone back to her roots to choreograph Russell Brand's live musical scenes in the upcoming comedy Get Him to the Greek. She is truly a renaissance woman, and one to keep an eye on in the future.
Jennifer Lynch, daughter of David, is back on the scene this month for the first time since directing 1993's Boxing Helena. The director exudes a cool biker chick persona, a warm friendly handshake, and a sense of humor that is intensely inviting. Her extremely positive, yet slightly off-mark personality, has eased itself into Surveillance, a new thriller starring Bill Pullman and Julie Ormond as FBI agents investigating a bizarre murder. While the quirky, inter-locking narrative may remind you of her father's earlier work (namely Twin Peaks), Jennifer is able to stamp the piece with her own signature brand of horrifying awkwardness. It's not easy to pull off a true and inspired twist ending in this retrofitted, cynical decade, but Lynch does it with ease. She also manages to pull two magnificent performances out of a couple former comedic actors. Both Cheri Oteri and French Steward will shock and surprise you. They pull off the unexpected, shaking free of whatever stigma may have been lingering around their upper torsos. Especially Steward. He's not the funny little man we remember from 3rd Rock from the Sun. He is a nasty, creepy police officer, and his heightened performance will make you do a double take. I never imagined that he had it in him to be so scary. Surveillance is quaint and sold on a miniscule budget. A lot of the scares come from its unnerving pace. We're never sure what is going on, or why. The build up is flung to the far reaches of its small story, and there are a lot of vivid details in the background. This is not a film to be missed, and it's available on In-Demand, so you have no excuse. Its not like you have to drive forty miles to arrive at the local art house theater to see it.
Finally, we have Kathryn Bigelow, one of the best action film directors working today. She returns for the first time since directing Harrison Ford in 2002's K-19: The Widowmaker with the tense, edge-of-your-seat thriller The Hurt Locker. The film, which follows an elite US Army bomb squad through their latest tour of duty in Iraq, will have you sweating bullets by the time its reached its final climax. Pieced together in a series of recollections, the project proves that Bigelow is far more proficient at developing and executing moments of sheer adrenaline fueled terror than her better-known male counter parts. The Hurt Locker is the best film of its kind to come out this year, and it will rock you off your foundation. It was never intended to be a war movie, even though it does take place in Iraq. Instead, Bigelow imagines this as a true-to-form action film from its very first moments, to its last. It is never preachy, and there's a certain sense that her characters truly love what they are doing, even though they fear it with every ounce of their soul. Though the film doesn't have a set, traditional three act beat structure, it is one of the better-scripted stories to come out in recent months. Sure, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is going to get all of the attention, but The Hurt Locker deserves it more. The visceral intensity of watching a real, developed character try to take a bomb of the chest of an innocent man is more heart pounding than anything offered up in Michael Bay's latest robot orgy explosion. You can bet on that. The Hurt Locker is guaranteed to be your next favorite film. (Though, it's still not as good as Bigelow's Point Break, but what is?)
Do us all a favor and seek out these three films. Support your local female directors. All three are awesome ladies, and they've made some of the best films of the year. (Well, that might be pushing it with The Proposal.) Eat food, kill grandma, Whoop-doo!