2011 was hailed as the year of change for women in comedy. With the release of smash hit Bridesmaids, which made over $287 million worldwide, it seemed that Hollywood was finally taking note regarding the depiction of female characters in comedy. For years women have been sidelined in the genre, usually appearing as one-note depictions or romantic interests to further the agenda of male characters, and it seemed as though the tide was finally turning.
Funnily enough, it’s taken a further four years for this change to really come to the fore, with 2015 seeing a string of mainstream female fronted comedies proving to be hugely successful. Spy and Pitch Perfect 2 are particularly lucrative examples, bagging well over $200 million each at the worldwide box office. Other films such as Hot Pursuit were of more dubious quality, but it is still great to see attempts being made to shake up the status quo. Then of course there was Amy Schumer shaking up the tired rom-com format with Trainwreck. It is also worth noting that the more typical male driven comedies of the year have been much less successful than Spy and Pitch Perfect 2 – Kevin Hart’s vehicles Get Hard and The Wedding Ringer were average performers, whilst Entourage and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 underwhelmed both critics and the box office.
There are some exciting prospects on the horizon, with Amy Pheloer and Tina Fey coming together for Sisters at the end of the year, an all female Ghostbusters on the horizon and a female driven comedy by the writers of the hilarious Broad City. Whilst there is certainly room for more diversity, with Sofia Vegara of Modern Family fame being one of the few ethnic stars to appear in any of the years comedies, these are all steps in the right direction.
What is so notable about these films is its depiction of women as fully rounded, human characters. Films such as Feig’s The Heat (2013) and Spy are taking movie scenarios so typically inhabited by men and putting women at the helm. Spy is perhaps the best example, providing a hilarious yet empowering take on the tired spy format. These are all films that pass the Bechdel Test – which requires females to have a conversation not to do with men at some point in a film. This is a positive step away from the Sex and the City style chick flicks of the early 2000s, as whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with those sorts of films, they should not be the only way women are depicted in female-centric cinema.
This could finally signify a change that has been a long time in the coming. Dubbed the Bridesmaids Effect, we are finally seeing female driven comedies take their rightful place in the mainstream. Paul Fieg, a director who is deemed to be a part of this revolution for his work with Melissa McCarthy, has said: “it’s an amazing sign of progress, but it feels a little silly to be celebrating it. It’s good, but it’s not enough. And this should have happened years and years and years ago.”
This is an interesting and wholeheartedly valid point – the fact that this is a big deal in 2015 is frankly ridiculous, and it’s still too early to tell if it is a permeanant development. It’s an area that has certainly seen a few false starts. Geena Davis – who made the news recently when she spoke out to highlight gender inequality in Hollywood – appeared to be kick starting a revolution back in the early 90’s with Thelma and Louise and A League of Their Own, so why has it taken another 20 years for the trend to take hold?
Quite simply, like everything in Hollywood it comes down to money. Before Bridesmaids there was nothing to convince studio executives that people would pay to see these kinds of movies. For far too long Hollywood has catered mostly for the teenage male, meaning that women are generally depicted within the limited guise of male fantasy. Whilst this trend in comedy suggests change may be on the horizon, the battle is far from over. We are yet to see a female led comic book movie from either Marvel or DC, and though there are ones in the horizon the balance is way off. Hopefully the financial and critical success of these comedies will help pave the way for progress in other genres too.
Here is Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon discussing female comedy when they were promoting Hot Pursuit – whilst the film was only average you can’t fault this duos talent!: