Females On Film: Ranking the summer’s biggest box office winners based on lady roles

and 08.20.14 3 years ago

Films with great women”s roles aren”t always great films. Films with poor female representation aren”t necessarily bad films.

But poorly written female roles will always be a problem for cinema so long as they continue to persist.

The damsel in distress. Angel-whore. The token girl. Trophy wives. Mother, daughter, sister. The unconditional love interest. These are among the popular clichés most frequently applied to female characters as they”re written on the page. Some films are so desperate for conflict that they just keep going to the well without altering the mold.

Have women not earned the right by now to play more villains, complicated lovers, a-holes, The Best Friends, soldiers, comic reliefs or leads? Can a woman be sexy in a film and still have a great role? Yes. Give her agency. Can a woman support other characters but still have a great role? Yes. Keep her vital. We give awards for that.

The summer months are chock-full of popcorn flicks; it”s franchise season, a time to test out stars against the widest viewing public, to bring out the (literal) big guns and new toys and high action and broad laughs. It seems just as good a time as any for us to analyze the top releases for how they treat their, erm, lady parts – the women”s roles in the biggest movies of the year.

We went through the box-office winners so far of the summer, the 14 films (as of press time) that have grossed more than $80 million starting with Memorial Day weekend (which kicked off with “X-Men: Days of Future Past”). Six of the 14 were sequels. Ten total were led by a male, males, or male species (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”). Four of the 14 were driven by female leads: “The Fault In Our Stars,” “Tammy,” “Lucy” and “Maleficent.” (And none were led by a person of color. Worth mentioning, and worth discussing again soon.)

In the following pages, we rank these 14 commercially successful films based on the strength and weakness of their female roles — regardless of how critically well-received those movies were overall.

This concentration on the gender disparity in film is not intended to put white male leads down, but to celebrate robust female characters, and to call out crappy ones that draw up to the surface the offensive dichotomies, stereotypes and failings of females as often written in film.

Filmmakers resort to tired tropes maybe because they don”t know how to write women, and maybe they think audiences won”t notice; are used to it; or, at worst, “enjoy” the subjugation and diminishment of women.

But all lovers of cinema — not just women — should demand equal thought and development to females on screen, and should take insult to lazily written constructs.

Remember, these films are fictions. We shouldn”t accept that the imagination fails.  Great roles are important because they help great cinema, no matter the gender. The poorly constructed ones will only hurt the art, and constrict our escape into the world. It can even harm those who absorb it.

Our loose ranking is based on some of these criteria:

Damsel: Were the female character or characters put into a victim role (or killed) in order to help forward the plotline of a male character?

Cheesecake: Did the film make gratuitous show or tell of the woman”s appearance, as a replacement for character or to undermine the woman”s agency?

Bechdel Test: Far from a perfect criteria, the Bechdel Test has three requirements: two or more women characters… talk to each other… about something other than a man.

Leading ladies: Who were the main women in the film? Were they the lead or support?

Here are the films we examine:

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Godzilla
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
How to Train Your Dragon 2
22 Jump Street
Amazing Spider-Man 2
X-men: Days of Future Past
Guardians of the Galaxy
Lucy
Edge of Tomorrow
The Fault In Our Stars
Maleficent
Tammy

#14: “Transformers: Age of Extinction”

Damsel: God yes. That's all Tessa (Nicola Peltz) was there to do. Whether she was stuck in a truck, too afraid to go on on suspended cables from a spaceship, held down for CIA forces… she'd probably cry, “Dad, help me!” to find her glasses or to tie her shoe. She was a write-in to further the plotline for the dudes.
 
Cheesecake: Absolutely. Several sweeping shots on Tessa's bod, toe to head most frequently.
 
Bechdel: Pass. Two scenes, as a matter of fact. First was Tessa telling her girlfriends friends about how she couldn”t wait to get to college and get wasted. The second was Darcy and Bingbing Li in a car, as Stanley Tucci's Steve Jobs character held the seed (Freudian?) in his lap: The conversation between them basically went, “That's a bomb?”, “Yes,” “Oh sh*t.”
 
Leading ladies: Tessa is the most prominent lady in the mix, and there are two women who “assist” Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) in his endeavors. Bingbing at one point magnificently fights off the CIA, saving Joyce”s life, and all his admiration adds up to is his hard-on. “I like her, I find her very attractive,” he says to the other male in the picture.

Then there's Darcy. We don't know what Darcy does, really.
 
Analysis: Transformers, for all its 165 minutes of bloated junk food, actually blows additional minutes on one of a very interesting entry into cheesecaking history. Wahlberg's Cade Yaeger confronts 20-year-old Shane (Jack Reynor) about boning his 17-year-old daughter, causing Shane to launch into an explanation of Texas' Romeo & Juliet clause, an exception to many states” statutory rape laws. He even procures a laminated card from his wallet with all the legalese, because that”s a perfectly normal, not-creepy thing to have in one”s wallet.  
 
Given this is a fiction (and how!) the story could have made Tessa 18-years-old like many a” normal high school senior. They could have left their ages out entirely. However, Bay and company give allowance to their own usage of “jailbait” (Peltz was 20 when the movie began shooting) in their films, thusly giving male audience members an “out,” their own permissions by proxy to ogle a sexualized young female. Meanwhile, it makes the point that, yes, girls are sexually active in their teen years, even if you hold the utmost guardianship over their virginity. It's a complex discussion they shoehorned into a very dumb movie.
 
Shane and Cade fight over her like she has no agency to actually “choose” one. “I'm not here to help rescue your daughter. You're here to help rescue my girlfriend,” I think is what Shane says in one particularly helpful nugget.
 
On top of that, women in the film are “Junebugs,” “princess,” “lotus flower,” “little girl,” “baby” and more. We never really see that Tessa is a great rally car navigator, only told “she has the best hands in the business.”
– Katie Hasty
 
 

#13: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
Damsel: There are a lot of dumb tropes in this movie. But April O'Neil (Megan Fox) doesn't get kidnapped, killed or taken hostage to entice the turtles to save her. In fact, one could argue the turtles themselves are damseled.
Cheesecake: At one point, O'Neil complains about having to do degrading fluff TV spots like trampoline exercise classes… and the movie promptly undermines its scathing commentary on the state of Fox's own career by putting her on the trampoline. While she never shows skin, there is a point where Fenwick (Will Arnett) crashes a semi-truck while staring at her ass, as on top of O'Neil's perpetual open-mouthed 'come hither' face. There's also a sight gag involving the turtles and a Victoria's Secret billboard that was just gratuitous as hell.
Bechdel test: Pass. April has a conversation with her roommate about the “vigilante” (which she does not know is male) and also multiple conversations with her female boss, played by Whoopi Goldberg.
Leading ladies: Most of the heavy lifting is done by Fox's April O'Neil. Minae Noji plays Shredder's muscle as Karai, but is given little to do. Goldberg is head of the Channel 6 news station and Abby Elliott is April's roommate. Several have minimal screen time.
Analysis: If “TMNT” was truly designed with children in mind, then it was only for children with an XY chromosome. Sure the entire film might be centered around April O'Neil (Megan Fox) but it certainly does not respect her. From her initial meeting of the six-foot tall, terrifying turtles – so threatening I honestly wondered if one of them was going to assault her – to the final moments where she smiles placatingly while Michelangelo creepily hits on her, O'Neil is never treated like a person. From her co-workers to her boss to her roommate to the turtles to Fenwick to Splinter and beyond, no one behaves as if she is an adult human capable of doing anything right.
The undercurrent of objectification, infantilization, and menace aimed at April is mind-bogglingly tone-deaf and disheartening. Fox does her best with the material given to her, but the results are still sadly sexist.
– Donna Dickens

#12: “Godzilla”
Damsel: Elle Brody (Elizabeth Olsen) might never be kidnapped by Godzilla or the Muto, but she spends the entire movie waiting for her husband (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to rescue her. On top of that, the film fridges Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche) within its opening moments in order to drive the stories of her husband and son.
Cheesecake: Not unless you're into giant naked kaiju?
Bechdel test: Barely. Elizabeth Olsen's character has a conversation with her nurse friend about the dangers of remaining in the hospital when Godzilla attack is imminent. The nurse friend is not named however.
Leading ladies: Elle Brody (the put-upon wife of Ford Brody) and Juliette Binoche as Ford's mother Sandra shoulder the brunt of female representation. The only other lady of note is Sally Hawking as Dr. Vivienne Graham – ignored Godzilla consultant.
Analysis: Overall “Godzilla” is a giant step back for women in science-fiction movies. Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche) is an intelligent scientist who is killed for no reason other than to provide angst for her husband and son. Elizabeth Olsen as Elle Brody is regulated to hand-wringing and waiting around for her husband to save her, despite being a nurse who should be level-headed and proactive in an emergency situation. Even Sally Hawking as Dr. Vivienne Graham is sidelined. When the men decide the best way to destroy a creature that feeds on radiation is to drop nukes on it, she is treated as a dolt for disagreeing with this OBVIOUSLY TERRIBLE plan.
The only female with agency and a complete story arc is arguably Godzilla herself. (Hey, you didn't flip her over and look, did you?)
– Donna Dickens

#11: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
 
Damsel: Yes. Caesar”s partner-wife Cornelia is sick and becomes a vital sideline for the humans and apes to temporarily ally. Doctor Ellie to the rescue… but to the victimization of the only other prominent female role in the film, and to further what is ultimately and Alpha Male fight.
 
Cheesecake: Nope. But you can tell Cornelia's a girl 'cuz she's wearing a garland, aw!

Bechdel test: Fail. We'll assume some words transpired between Ellie and ape Cornelia, but we didn't see it, and I doubt it would have passed as decipherable conversation.
 
Leading ladies: There”s Ellie – caretaker, stand-in wife and stand-in mother – and ape Cornelia – victim, love interest/”wife” and mother. There are no other females with speaking roles: Karin Konoval plays a male ape, Maurice, a teacher.
 
As I wrote in our Best And Worst coverage of the film, we run into the problem yet again of not just a derth of female characters, but the few that exist fall into the same tired female roles. Ellie is told repeatedly to stay behind or away from the action, frequently “hidden” in secret or private rooms.
 
Screenwriters gave the “less evolved” species an overt out, by Koba telling the tribe to send the women and children into the forest as his army waged war. For “alpha males” in a time of crisis, women still didn”t earn the opportunity to play even auxiliary roles, like pigheaded armory guards, soldiers, engineers, wild cards, henchmen, teachers or even an ape-daughter.
– Katie Hasty
 

#10: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

Damsel: God yes, it is pretty much Gwen Stacy's job description.
Cheesecake: No. Gwen might be in a skirt the majority of the movie but the film never uses it for a cheap way to titillate the audience.
Bechdel test: Fail. Not even close. The only three female characters never share the screen, much less a conversation.
Leading ladies: We have Aunt May and Gwen Stacy as the main women in Peter's life, but Harry's assistant Felicia Hardy also get a few moments to shine (and set up her future in the franchise).
Analysis: Where do I even begin? Let's start with the death of Gwen Stacy. One of the most iconic moments in the history of comic books, somehow “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” made it feel like a tacked on afterthought. What should've been the focus of the film – Peter dealing with the death of the love of his life – is wiped under the rug with a tidy music montage. The movie also undermines the entire purpose of Stacy's death, which is that when Peter gets cocky and his loved ones suffer. In the comic, Stacy's neck is snapped because Peter stops her fall too quickly. But the movie absolves him of any wrong-doing and lays the onus on the Green Goblin and poor timing. The subtle implication that she'd be alive if she had just listened to Peter and stayed home like a good girl plays a way to punish her for daring to make her own choices.
The other females fair some better. Sally Fields is absolutely flawless as an Aunt May with a life outside her dead husband and teenage nephew. Her sly attempts to let Peter know she knows he's Spider-Man are a welcome reprieve in a time when most comic book universes like to pretend the family of superheroes are blind and stupid.
Felicity Jones as Felicia Hardy isn't given much to do, but she holds her own in a corporate setting dominated by old white men. And knowing what we do about Hardy's place in the Spider-Man lore, we can be certain we haven't seen the last of her. 
– Donna Dickens

#9: “How To Train Your Dragon 2
 
Damsel: Valka gets nicked twice nearing the end of the film, a diversion for the male characters as they kick ass. (Ruffnut, on the other hand, WANTS to become captured by dragon thief/dreamboat Eret, with a “Me likey… take me.”)
 
Cheesecake: This is solid PG animated territory, where Mom gets to where legitimately scary warrior wear. Ruffnut and Astrid are pretty well covered (it”s cold!) and their armor could double as a snow sleds.
 
Bechdel test: Fail.
 
Leading ladies: Valka is a warrior when we meet her, and a damsel by the end. Princess Astrid is Hiccup”s girlfriend, Ruffnut is Tuffnut”s sister after whom two tribesmen lust.
 
Analysis: Valka is such an exquisite and awe-inspiring character, a wonderful voice role for Cate Blanchett. But as Tasha Robinson”s Dissolve piece rightly points out, Valka begins as a “strong female character” written off by film”s end as just another means to Hiccup”s end. Despite her teachings and decades of training, she fails against the enemy over and over, handing the (literal) reins over to her husband and son. It”s not that she”s awesome — it”s that she”s awesome until dudes show up. Then she loses Stoick — whom she obviously loves very much – but busily tends to Hiccup”s loss as if she doesn”t have her own. She set the dragon vapor trail for all the dragon riders, but she's nothing but a cloud by the end.
 
Astrid and Ruffnut are amazing fighters, too, still just not as awesome as the boys.
– Katie Hasty

#8: “22 Jump Street”
 
Damsel: No. In a fun gender flip, a male (Capt. Dickson, played by Ice Cube) is actually taken hostage by a woman (Mercedes, played by Jillian Bell).
 
Cheesecake: The spring break scenes, per usual are gratuitous boobage and bikini. We really only see shoulder shots of Maya after Schmidt's bedded her in her dormroom.
 
Bechdel test: Fail. Barbs exchanged between Maya and Mercedes were pretty squarely about a man.
 
Leading ladies: Maya (Amber Stevens) plays a love interest, and the daughter to Capt. Dickson. Mercedes is Maya”s roommate, and a secret villain – Ghost”s daughter. Neither are particularly leads, but they each get some shining moments.
 
Analysis: Fun fact: pretending to enjoy beat poetry so that a girl might sleep with you is some pretty shady stuff. However, in Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Maya”s case, post-schtup, she”s not all that into him; he”s the one sent on The Walk Of Shame in the morning. It”s not a feminist moment, but a playful reversal.
 
This sequel, by its nature, isn”t a female”s story. Its female roles just help move the males” along. However, it toys a little with female stereotypes, like the “feminine” and infantile look of Mercedes, who knows her way around a foul-mouthed zinger. Maya helps to save Schmidt”s life by knocking out Mercedes.  The kiss-you-or-kill you scene with Schmidt and Mercedes took a good dig at that very Hollywood trope. Ladies here are mostly “minority feisty” – but at least one is extremely funny.
– Katie Hasty

#7: “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Damsel: No ladies waiting for their man to save them here. From Storm and Blink to Kitty Pryde and Mystique, the women of X-Men are just as likely to be saviors as the saved. Young Charles might project the damsel-in-distress trope onto Raven, but she rejects it completely.
Cheesecake: Shockingly no. Despite being 100% naked most of the film, Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique is not sexualized for it. No loving camera pans over her ass, no lingering looks at her breasts. Nothing.
Bechdel test: Depends on if you need both ladies to have names. If so, then no. If not, then sure because Mystique talks to a French nurse about the news while the nurse bandages her leg.
Leading ladies: Mystique takes front and center here, but Kitty Pryde, Storm and Blink are holding down the fort in the future to keep the past from happening. Rogue and Jean Grey also make an appearance near the end (with Rogue having a significant – damseled – role that was left on the cutting room floor).
Analysis: Despite “Days of Future Past” beginning as another installment of “Wolverine and Friends,” it quickly becomes clear that Mystique is the real star of the movie. Her single-minded focus on killing Trask is the lynchpin of the entire plot. Throughout the movie, both Charles and Eric alternately attempt to infantilze her motivations (she doesn't know the mental anguish she'll cause herself by turning to murder!) and mansplain at her why they abandoned her (“hey honey, I couldn't be expected to SAVE those mutants from torture and vivisection!”). 
While Mystique gets the juiciest character arc and the most ambiguous characterization, the other women are left to hold down the fort in the future. Storm, Blink, and Kitty Pryde all get moments in the limelight as battle-hardened warriors and strategists. But it would've been nice if they'd actually been allowed to talk to one another.
By far the most uncomfortable moment is at the end of the “Days” when Wolverine has succeeded: with the timeline essentially reset, Jean Grey is revealed to be alive. And it takes approximately ten seconds for the movie to regulate one of the most powerful mutants in the world to the prize in Wolverine v. Cyclop's testosterone pissing match.
– Donna Dickens

#6: “Guardians of the Galaxy”
Damsel: Neither Gamora nor Nebula need a man (or woman or alien) to rescue them, though Gamora's temporary space-death certainly seemed to propel Star-Lord's starry status forth. A sister trope known as “Women in Refrigerators” is used on Star-Lord's mom to propel his story arc.
Cheesecake: Despite trailers of a topless Gamora, only two gratuitous shots of Zoe Saldana's (clothed) butt made the final cut.
Bechdel test: Kinda pass? Gamora and Nebula have several conversations throughout the film. But other than Nebula's assertion that, of all their siblings, she hated Gamora least, every conversation the two have is about a man or doing the bidding of a man.
Leading ladies: Gamora and Nebula have the beefiest roles, but Glenn Close as Nova Prime, the Star-Lord's one-night stand Bereet, and The Collector's assistant/slave Carina help balance out the dude-to-lady ratio.
Analysis: Despite being both a superhero team-up with the traditional token female member and most audacious origin story Marvel has attempted to date, the women of “Guardians of the Galaxy” get a fairer shake than most — even the minor characters. Bereet might be a one-night stand, but her answering the phone kicks off one of the major story arcs. And Star-Lord forgetting she was there plays as him being an ass, not some idol of male sexuality.
Failure to give Nova Prime (Glenn Close) more screen time was a travesty. Her hard-boiled but snarky leadership was a welcome addition in a archetype usually refused for gruff old men. Even The Collector's assistant/slave Carina gets a moment to shine, taking matters about her lot in life to a sad but respectable conclusion.
It's odd then that the two main women – Gamora and Nebula – suffer the most. Both are touted as great assassins and are supposed to be feared throughout the galaxy. Instead, Nebula chews scenery and blusters, but not much else. Meanwhile, Gamora is said to be a badass, she is but she never gets to show it. Would the best assassin in the galaxy be afraid of prison scum? Who else assumed she was letting those idiots take her to the showers so she could kill them all? Would Gamora really allow space pirates to manhandle her while they attempted to kill her friend? Even the final battle between the sisters seemed tame in comparison to their lauded skill sets. 
Not following through on the contrived romance and giving Gamora a character arc that isn't there to prop up and/or propel the male protagonist are steps in the right direction, but it could've been so much more.
– Donna Dickens

#5: “Lucy”

Damsel: Not really. Lucy is distressed at the very first parts of the film, and then when she disintegrates on the airplane. Those early moments are the last times she needs saving, and her needing of saving doesn't fulfill any plot needs of a male.
 
Cheesecake: Yes. Scarlett Johansson rocks some sick Louboutins and a lace-up little black dress, where director Luc Besson is illustrating transformation and power. The femme fatale trappings are a red herring, the “look” betraying her purist capabilities, so Besson could have his cake and eat it too.
 
Bechdel test: Pass, and plus another sort-of. Lucy talks to her roommate about her health (and her iffy auditions). Lucy and her mom aren't in the same room, but Lucy has one of the more meaningful and emotional conversations in the film.
 
Leading ladies: Yes, Lucy is the only consistent speaking role for women in the film, but is the titular and driving character.
 
Analysis: Besson”s statement of intent for “Lucy” was structured around “The Professional” for Part 1, “Inception” for Part 2″ and “2001: Space Odyssey,” none of which are notably female-driven films. Even if it was chance that rendered a woman the smartest and most capable human on the planet, it was still an intentional play on gender reversal, if even only in wild colors, and in candy-coated paradoxes. There are lots of male roles and so few women”s roles – one way to fulfill oppositions, conflicts and farcical gender differences in genre film. Lucy wants to show the world the whole universe, which is heroic in one way, and she does it in a manner that is ultimately a genderless, a different sort of star-child.
– Katie Hasty

#4: “Edge of Tomorrow”
 
Damsel: Nope. The closest it comes is Tom Cruise's realization that there's no way to further his video game journey without losing her along the way. She doesn't know this, and conceptually this is even phased out. When he explains she'll keep dying, she still wants to go on.
 
Cheesecake: A downward dog in training fatigues. (That's yoga, y'all.)
 
Bechdel test: Fail. Blunt”s Rita issues orders to a group of troops, which includes some women soldiers, but no two females address each other and have a conversation.
 
Leading ladies: There are very few speaking roles in this movie overall. Most of the dialogue transpires between Cruise”s Cage and Rita.
 
Analysis: This is the story about how a spineless man (Cage) is taught to be a hero by a Full Metal Bitch. The nickname was given to Blunt”s incredible Rita, a super-soldier who had formerly fallen into the same “live, die, repeat” loop as Cage. She”s tactical, tough, complex, practical, has experienced loss and wears it; Cage has no aim until she shows up, has no chance of success without her. She refuses to be victimized, earning her stripes as much as any man written on page has this summer. She co-leads, steals a kiss without looking back.
 
But, no, she”s not The One, like in The Matrix franchise; as The Week wrote, she has lots of feminist appeal but still “feed[s] male wish fulfillment.” It very well could have been Rita to win the game at the end, but we”re so used to Tom Cruise capturing the flag…
– Katie Hasty

#3: “Maleficent”

Damsel: One could argue Elle Fanning's Aurora is damseled by falling under the sleeping spell, but the movie actively seeks to subvert this trope. So the question becomes: is it still damseling if Aurora is saved by the very woman that cursed her — instead of propelling the Prince's story?
Cheesecake: Nope. Angelina Jolie puts her femme fatale persona on ice and conveys Maleficent as being powerful and sexy without catering to the omnipresent male gaze.
Bechdel test: Passes with flying (zing!) colors. Maleficent and Aurora have multiple interactions. Also the lesser characters of the fairies – while incompetent – do converse about non-man things. 
Leading ladies: The titular Maleficent dominates every scene she's in but the cast is rounded out nicely by Aurora, the three fairies, and King Stefan's neglected wife.
Analysis: Hot on the heels of feminist princess movie “Frozen,” Disney doubled-down on their new campaign to give women agency and depth with “Maleficent.” The movie helps hammer home that not everything in the world revolves around men and finding the love of your life. That “true love” can be familial or platonic and you don't have to find your prince before you become a whole person. 
The only true blip is Disney falls back on the old trope of the “woman scorned.” Maleficent's drugging and subsequently violent removal of her wings as a PG-13 metaphor for rape was unnecessary. The fairy queen already had all the reasons she needed to hate the human world without this storytelling standby. 
– Donna Dickens

#2: “The Fault in Our Stars”

Damsel: Shailene Woodley”s Hazel certainly doesn”t suffer from cancer for the sake of furthering anyone else”s narrative, nope. Her lungs betray her, and during the extremes, she needs to be carried into the hospital or helped — but it's not vicitimize her or pump up Gus.
 
Cheescake: The closest we get is to Laura Dern in a towel, rushing from a shower to illustrate Frannie”s constant state of emergency. Hazel puts on a formal dress for a date, but she's presented modestly, no singing birds or inappropriate plunging necklines.
 
Bechdel test: Pass, with flying colors, between mom and daughter.
 
Leading ladies: “Fault” is one of the four box-office toppers on this list to have a female driving the film. Hazel”s mom Frannie and Lidewij (assistant to dirtbag novelist Van Houton) play important speaking roles too. Don”t forget that historical female Anne Frank actually serves as a major metaphor.
 
Analysis: “The Fault In Our Stars” is a woman”s romantic coming-of-ager as an axe hangs overhead. Hazel is obstinate to a — you guessed it — fault. While audiences learn more about Augustus in quick time due to his cocky and large-gesture personality, we learn about Hazel more slowly and delicately. She is tough without being stereotypically tomboy, avoiding that cinematic shorthand. She”s a complete character, with flaws and her own drive, humor, damage, desire and complex thoughts. She looks the part of a terminally ill teenager, too, with no sex-potting for the sake of screaming “female.”

While there was some unbelievable elements to her and Gus” painful love story (*cough* Anne Frank house, and the “dying a virgin” chat *cough*) Woodley”s performance and the script made this a lively romance and built a good female role.
 
There”s also a very strong female-centric scene in the film, when Hazel”s mom reveals that she”s taking classes in social work, in order to help other people faced with the same mortal ordeals. She also affirms that she”ll still be a “mother,” even after Hazel dies — an exploration of female identity outside of mere lip service.
– Katie Hasty

Ranked best, #1: “Tammy”

Damsel: Nope. You could say Tammy is in need of saving from her own poor life choices, but she saves herself, thankyouverymuch.
Cheesecake: Nope. Despite there being a lesbian house party, everyone remains clothed and away from the male gaze.
Bechdel test: Passes 150%.
Leading ladies: Melissa McCarthy plays the title character but is joined by the likes of Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Allison Janney, Sandra Oh, Toni Collette, and a gaggle of background women.
Analysis: Critics might have almost universally panned Melissa McCarthy's passion project for being a rote, meandering comedy. But when it comes to the treatment of women characters, this film is leaps and bounds above the competition.
Say what you will about the pacing or the premise, but “Tammy” handily reverses the gender dynamics in most Hollywood films. As the main character, McCarthy embodies the lovable slob trope. Susan Sarandon plays her alcoholic grandmother looking for one more hurrah before her daughter ships her off to a nursing home. Kathy Bates plays the lesbian cousin of Sarandon; Sandra Oh is Bates's life partner. Allison Janney is Tammy's put-upon, straight laced downer of a mother trying to stop this road trip and Toni Collette is the home wrecker who puts the final nail Tammy's marriage. Even Sarah Baker as the fast food cashier Becky has a defined personality.
“Where are the men?” I hear you asking. There's only three of note. Dan Aykroyd as Tammy's father who appears only to pick McCarthy up from prison, Mark Duplass as Tammy's love interest, and Gary Cole as Sarandon's booty call. None of the men exist in any capacity outside how they can push the story along for the women. It's a complete 100% role reversal.
– Donna Dickens

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