The two-sided reviews of female-led or directed movies and television shows.
BY JOSIE STEWART, ’21.
When I discovered Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, I binged the entire first season in one night. After realizing how long I’d been sitting in bed, I went to sleep firmly in the decision to slowly watch the second and last season to appreciate every witty comment or plot point I might’ve missed the night before.
Soon after, the second season also came to an end. Wanting more of Waller-Bridge’s genius, though, I scoured through reviews, analytical YouTube videos and talk show interviews to unsurprisingly find that most everyone fell in love with Fleabag, the Hot Priest and the show as a whole giving it a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for both seasons.
The critics raved about the show—this could be a review where I personally can draw connections to her themes of femininity, her incredible acting and possibly the best use of the fourth wall I have ever seen. When I turned to the reviews on Amazon Prime (where the show is streamed), though, I found quite the opposite.
The reviews here, filled with people saying that they don’t like watching “sad people” on television or hold disdain for the use of women having casual sex for humor. Vulgar, immature, mean-spirited, sad and disturbing were all adjectives used to describe the show.
The question is, are these really fair assessments?
I have often heard criticisms of feminists where they praise women even for work that is bad or not worthy of praise. I agree. We should hold women to the same standards as men in order to be seen as equal to men. In the questions of media that portray strong or feminist women, though, it seems that criticisms more lie in the category of obscenity rather than the content or talent of the show. In this case, the criticism of blasphemy may also be fair, though.
This acknowledgement led to me checking reviews each time I finished a movie or show with even the slightest feminist themes. My obsession with Fleabag quickly turned over to Eliza Hittman’s 2020 film Never Rarely Sometimes Always which similarly earned a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes from the critics.
From the audience—to my surprise—the film was rated at only 20%.
This time, people complained that the movie was a waste of time, a waste of money and completely without a plot. I will admit that the movie is slow-moving with development, but just like other famous J.D. Salinger books, some of the greatest stories and lessons come from the characters told this way. In brief, the plot follows a teenage girl who travels to New York City to have an abortion. Along the way, though, it explores the pressures and controversy of pregnancy and abortion (especially for a teen) and presents the subtle fears and experiences that many women have.
Nonetheless, this didn’t deter Rotten Tomatoes commenters from saying “it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen!!!!!!!!” and that there is “no point” to the entire film.
I don’t want to be mistaken in the fact that we should be criticizing films with women the same way that we criticize them with men. Emerald Fennell’s 2020 film Promising Young Woman offers the perfect example for critiques.
While the film was meant to be a story of feminist revenge, its tone and plot didn’t quite end up that way. In fact, despite a 91% from critics, many audience members felt the toxic masculinity presented in the film was not well addressed. Even so, we still see others describing the main character who is trying to support her deceased best friend who was a victim of sexual assault as sad, cynical, unrealistic, depressing and in need of psychological support.
If anything, this proves the superiority of Carey Mulligan’s acting which was largely celebrated aside from various criticisms of the film.
The irony here is always noticeable. While we have constantly been bombarded with female tropes and truly one-dimensional manic pixie dream girls from male directors and writers, truly real women written into films seem to be criticized far more than their male counterparts. While this isn’t always the case, noticing these differences shows the true criticisms of everyday women in reality.
Maybe, though, Waller-Bridge and Hittman expected this all along having these comments prove the point they were attempting to make through film.