Food for the Soul: Brain Not Brawn – Women In Action

Debbie Ocean: How long would it take you to make seven pieces of jewelry?
Amita: Five or six hours.
Debbie Ocean: How long if I told you you didn’t have to live with your mother anymore?
Amita: Less.
” ~Dialog from Ocean’s Eight

By Nina Heyn, Your Culture Scout

Hollywood is rocked daily by harassment accusations against some extremely powerful industry figures – usually this ends up in the offending man being toppled (fired, resigned, has taken some time to be with the family or is awaiting the end of investigation). In the meantime, a lot of male execs are lying low, a lot of women are less cowered and a lot of new scripts featuring women as the leading action stars are being written. So far, they mainly result in remakes that replace male stars with female equivalents but perhaps with time there will be some major blockbusters – disaster movies, actioners, superhero tales – that simply will have women in the driving seat.

Whether or not you are into the #MeToo movement, it is refreshing to see Hollywood finally embracing some action movies with female leads. You could say it started with 2017 success of Wonder Woman which starred Gal Gadot as a superheroine and which garnered both box office success and critical acclaim as a movie that finally delivered a great superhero character that is invincible, smart, compassionate, a leader … and a female. If you have not seen it, it’s worth checking out, especially that a sequel called Wonder Woman 1984 is in the works.

This year theaters are of course full of the standard summer fare: a new installment of Mission Impossible (Tom Cruise again doing his incredible stunts, this time a lot of it in lovely Paris), several new Marvel superhero movies and a few popcorn actioners like Skyscraper (Dwayne Johnson and a very tall building) or impressive creature-features like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Meg (a prehistoric super shark on a prowl). All these movies are fun summer offerings, they keep audiences happy in air-conditioned theaters and movie studios able to pay the rent and eye-popping salaries to their CEO’s. What is a bit new is a recognition that not every summer blockbuster has to involve guns, supernatural creatures and chases (recent movie chases moved beyond cars and they involve all kinds of moving things: a bike and a boat, a dinosaur and a ball full of humans, or a couple of tanks). Welcome to some entertaining action movies that have no gun and no car chase in sight.

The leading example of this year’s female trend is Ocean’s Eight– a movie that is a sequel to the Ocean’s franchise: Ocean’s Eleven (itself a remake of the 1960 original) and the two more movies in the series (Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen) – all of them featuring a character of Danny Ocean (George Clooney at the height of his in and off-screen charming persona) and his merry band of conmen including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and a many other household names. Ocean’s Eight has dispensed with all these guys and the new crew for a daring heist is led by Danny Ocean’s sister played by Sandra Bullock. She is ably assisted by “who is who” of stars – Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helen Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, and a few up-and coming younger female artists like Awqwafina and Mindy Kaling. Stealing money from a casino is also so last century – this time the heist goal is lifting a few diamond baubles during the annual Fashion Gala at the Met. That is a true mission impossible with an army of security personnel, publicists, museum guards and star entourages devoted to keeping the event free of anybody who is not a VIP. The movie’s fun is in spotting at the ball all the celebrities (Anna Wintour, Serena Williams, Katie Holmes, Olivia Munn, Zac Posen and others) doing cameo appearances but there is also even more fun watching the female crew solving all the problems of their perfect crime by using their strategizing, charm and office skills rather than firearms. Their getaway car is a slow catering truck and their motivation is getting away from an overbearing mom rather than saving the world. The eight women (the good, the bad and the very famous) use street smarts rather than fists, and they help each other rather than fight for domination. Different world, guys!

An upcoming The Hustle is another remake within this “girls instead of boys” trend – this time it’s a new version of a 1988 comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels of two rival conmen betting who can swindle an heiress first. Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson reprise the roles that were originally played by Michael Caine and Steve Martin – this time they play rivaling cons against a tech maverick.

Later this year there will be two other movies where women are the driving forces of the story. Widows is an interesting women-focused project. It is based on a 1983 British TV series of the same title that was written by Lynda La Plante, a writer who was frustrated by lack of projects for her as an actress and who went later on to write the celebrated show Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren. The original TV series Widows was about women who took over a robbery plan after their husbands botched the job and died. The remake, directed by Steve McQueen for whom this will be a first feature film since his Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave, has the same premise. Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo star as the widows who have nothing in common except lots of debt left by their dead husbands. All they can do is to band together and sort the mess out.

A different era but the same premise of women in control is driving the upcoming movie Mary, Queen of Scots with Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) playing the title role against Margot Robbie’s Queen Elizabeth I. We all know how this power play ended but this time it is very much a story of the political and family rivalry between two women who happen to be queens.

There is also a whole slew of movies in the distribution pipeline that will feature women in action stories- time will tell if they will simply be a bunch of movies where a badass guy was replaced by an equally violent female or will there be little more “brain over brawn” in them.

For a while now TV producers have been churning one show after another that features strong female characters. It can be anything from celebrated and cerebral dystopia of Handmaid’s Tale to comedic show Glow set in the world of female wrestlers, from a teenage superhero series Supergirl to a prison setting in the award-winning Orange Is New Black. Movie offerings are more sparse in this category but there is definitely an interest among Hollywood producers to create more films with female characters replacing males in traditional A-list projects rather just as damsels in distress or female sidekicks. Time will show is this trend will result in movies that are as much fun as Ocean’s Eight.

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