Film & Television

The ‘Real’ Women of Independent Films

Another standout is The Diary of a Teenage Girl.  Not for the faint of heart, this film gives us a very honest account of the life an adolescent in San Francisco circa 1976. Those of us old enough can remember how confusing it was when social revolution caught up everyone, including our parents, and suddenly it was “anything goes.” For Minnie, the 15 year-old beautifully portrayed here by Bel Powley, things are complicated further by her mother’s (Kristin Wiig, wonderful) drinking, drug use, and her sexual exploitation by the mother’s boyfriend, which Minnie experiences as true love. The film takes a very “70s” point of view—“it’s all cool man”—while at that same time the very lack of judgment gives the viewer enough room to experience these events all the more immediately.

Mistress America takes aim at admiration, trust, and competition between women. Tracy (Lola Kirke) just starting at Barnard and finding it lonely, looks up Brooke (Greta Gerwig), 30, whose father is engaged to marry her mother at Thanksgiving. Brooke has a loft in Times Square and may be the most charismatic, cool person Tracy has ever met. Or is she exploitative, self-deluded, and irresponsible? Drawn into her orbit, Tracy is both enchanted and fascinated by Brooke but not so much that she doesn’t write a painfully accurate short story describing her as someone whose youthful charm is wearing thin and who drags her younger self around behind her like a “carcass.” When she submits this story to the Columbia literary society and a jealous girl reveals it to Brooke, trouble ensues and everyone is forced to re-examine their motives.

Overall, Mistress America is both a madcap comedy and also a more serious coming of age story examining the nature of friendship, ambition, and what it takes to fulfill our dreams. Independent films have always been willing to take the risk of bending genres and giving performers roles that allow them to stretch their talents. This year’s I Smile Back stars Sarah Silverman, an actress known for comedy, as an addicted and depressed housewife whose life is spinning out of control. The Lady in the Van has Maggie Smith far from Downton Abbey, portraying an eccentric homeless woman who lives in a parked van. The lives dramatized in these films aren’t always easy to look at but we will all recognize parts of ourselves in them and be glad that these talented actresses and filmmakers have the courage to look honestly at these women. Quirky, ambiguous, contradictory, idiosyncratic, independent films are like real women themselves, always surprising, and in a class by themselves.


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