Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller play a few of the aspiring theater actresses sharing a rooming house in New York City. Roles come and go, but the real stories happen backstage where the witty women share their dreams, disappointments, and let the wisecracks fly.
Screenwriters hired a stenographer to observe young actresses chatting at theater rehearsals and incorporated the dialogue style into the script — much of which ended up being improvised. Stage Door stands as a rare, early portrait of female friendship — one in which women are cynical, fiercely ambitious, and not necessarily a perfect fit. Despite the odds — on and off stage — they are loyal and supportive.
Based on a play by Clare Boothe Luce, George Cukor’s 1939 all-female comedy cast more than 130 speaking roles for women — an impressive number even in today’s cinema climate. The interconnected tale of Manhattan socialites and their relationships was also adapted for the screen by women (Anita Loos and Jane Murfin — with uncredited scriptwork by F. Scott Fitzgerald). Though the characters frequently gossip about the ups and downs of their collective marriages, men never appear in the film. The director even went so far as to only portray women in props, such as artwork, and female animals were cast as pets. In 1939, the subject of divorce was still quite taboo, let alone in a film where the woman initiates it. Between the barbs about cheating husbands are poignant moments of female boding and criticisms of societal pressures.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Howard Hawks’ 1953 transatlantic showgirl saga boasts fantastic comedic banter between two of Hollywood’s biggest beauties: Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. The odd couple — a single-minded blond bombshell looking for a rich husband and the wisecracking brunette who keeps her out of trouble — have sparkling chemistry. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes doesn’t depict the women as jealous rivals in a cutthroat business. Instead, they’re best friends who value friendship over romance and fame.
The bittersweet Career Girls follows female pals who met in college and reunite several years after graduation. Mike Leigh offers another brilliant, observational character study, with Katrin Cartlidge and Lynda Steadman delivering effortless performances. A scene in which the women play a literary divination game using an old copy of Wuthering Heights reveals an intimacy and natural humor often absent from big-screen female friendships.
Three troubled friends (Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher) reunite for a bullied classmate’s wedding (Rebel Wilson). Dunst’s superficial Regan is outrageously jealous that she isn’t getting married before her overweight friend. Caplan’s snarky Gena is trapped in the past, obsessing over her rocky relationship with ex Clyde (Adam Scott). Meanwhile, Fisher’s Katie is a party girl too coked up to care. The film was released around the same time as Bridesmaids and became somewhat lost next to the happier, perkier Kristen Wiig film. Leslye Headland’s darker portrayal of flawed, ferocious women brought a refreshing complexity, honesty, and vulnerability to the table.
Roger Ebert summed up the appeal of Terry Zwigoff’s misfit teen comedy in his review:
“I wanted to hug this movie. It takes such a risky journey and never steps wrong. It creates specific, original, believable, lovable characters, and meanders with them through their inconsolable days, never losing its sense of humor.”
Walking and Talking
The Nicole Holofcener-written and directed indie comedy is one of the greatest portraits of 30-something women from the ’90s, with nary a Hugh Grant in sight. Catherine Keener and Anne Heche are believable and funny as best friends (one getting married, the other staying single), trading clever dialogue and insight as they balance life and their tight-knit relationship.
New York City roommates and street musicians Hattie (Helen Slater) and Lolly (Melanie Mayron) end up with a bag of money left behind by their dope dealer. Things get crazy when they start to spend it, of course. A cast of eccentric characters — including Christopher Guest, Carol Kane, Eileen Brennan, and Danitra Vance — provide an entertaining detour on the ladies’ manic journey to understanding the real value of friendship.
Far from the average teen comedy, Pitch Perfect shares valuable life lessons: “Even though some of you are pretty thin, you all have fat hearts, and that’s what matters.” More Rebel Wilson, please.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion
Spacey buds Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow) invent an impressive life and career for themselves after high school in order to wow the mean girls who tormented them. The bubbly comedy doesn’t break new ground, but there’s a genuine heart at the center of the film. The results are fun and adorable.