One of the hardest things to find to recommend to people are films that impart genuinely good messages or role models for girls. One of my best friends is raising a daughter who is an engaged film fan, and it was a real treat to be able to invite them to the “Mockingjay” premiere recently. For the most part, though, it doesn't feel like Hollywood has them in mind when its creating most of the big genre fare that's released each year, and finding something that I can pass along can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility.
There are two films that were both sent as part of my big catch-up stack of screeners that I want to recommend wholeheartedly, though, and they both feel like they are uncommonly smart and sensitive about how they present characters who don't fit into any traditional roles for girls in movies. Isao Takahata, one of Studio Ghibli's major artistic partners, takes fairy tale tropes and demolishes them in “The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya.” In particular, I love the way the film handles the whole “marry the princess to the perfect prince” idea. It is a delicate film, with a delicate ending, and it may be slower than what most young viewers are used to when it comes to fairy tales on film, but there is a quiet cumulative power to it that I eventually found almost overwhelmingly moving.
“We Are The Best!” is a whole different thing, a rowdy, vulgar, authentic story of three girls in their early teens starting a punk band together in Sweden. Lukas Moodysson's adaptation of his wife Coco's comic book is vibrant and alive, and the three young leads are all outstanding. I'd call the film adorable, but that sounds condescending. I'll say instead that the parental side of me felt fiercely protective of these girls as they take their first steps into being young adults, as they find their voices artistically, as they struggle to define themselves while standing firmly apart from almost everyone around them. The way the film deals with ideas of self-image and friendship and sexual awakening is tonally perfect, and the film ends in such a great big joyous way that it left me smiling and a little buzzed.
What both films have in common is that they treat the girls who are the main characters with real respect and dignity and dares to tell stories about being different, but that avoid easy cliche. They are celebratory movies, the kinds of films that have a chance to genuinely impact young viewers. These are two very special pictures, and in a climate that can often be inhospitable to films about and for young women, they deserve extra support whenever they become available in your area.
“We Are The Best!” is on Netflix Instant now, and “The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya” is still playing in limited theatrical release in several cities.