August in Movies: Films Featuring Fascinating Females

Jacqueline Kim in Jennifer Phang's Advantageous. Photo by Jennifer Phang

Jacqueline Kim in Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous. Photo by Jennifer Phang

Blockbuster season can be tough on us ladies.

The big studios are still lightyears behind in gender equality, both in front of the camera and behind. A quick look at the current box office scores shows only one film in the top ten with female top billing (Trainwreck‘s Amy Schumer). It’s not that I don’t like films about men—many of my favorites are—it’s just that there are so many of them.

But have no fear, girls. Films about interesting women are available; you just have to look a little beyond those big multiplex lights to find them.  Here are a few of our current favorites.

Read on, sisters.

Jacqueline Kim in Jennifer Phang's Advantageous. Photo by Jennifer Phang

Jacqueline Kim in Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous. Photo by Jennifer Phang

Advantageous

Director: Jennifer Phang
Screenwriters: Jacqueline Kim and Jennifer Phang
Won: A Sundance 2015 U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Collaborative Vision
Starring: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams, Ken Jeong, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Kim
Opens: Currently on Netflix and iTunes
Advantageous drops viewers into a fully formed, near-future world of such economic competition that the government and corporations have begun preferentially hiring men over women because they prefer the effect desperate women have on society (prostitution, family disintegration) to those of desperate men (violence, terrorism). Co-writer Jacqueline Kim is riveting as a single mother whose job as the spokesmodel for the world’s top cosmetic bio-engineering company is at risk. Her boss (a chilling Jennifer Ehle) wants to go in a younger direction. Desperate to get her daughter into a premier school to secure her future, Kim’s character considers an unthinkable option. This is sci-fi at its most intimate and most intelligent. Phang and Kim’s vision is terrifying in its believabilty and drawn with subtle detail. Taking on ageism, sexism, elitism, and beauty-ism (is that a word?), Phang destroys them all with this sharp story of one mother’s sacrificial love. See it NOW on Netflix or iTunes.
Bel Powley and Alexander Skarsgård in Marielle Heller's The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Photo by Sam Emerson

Bel Powley and Alexander Skarsgård in Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Photo by Sam Emerson

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Director & Screenwriter: Marielle Heller
Starring: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig
Won: A Sundance 2015 U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography, to cinematographer Brandon Trost
Opens: August 7, limited release

This film is one of the least exploitative and most empathetic films about a young girl’s sexual discovery and ethical development I’ve ever seen. Director Marielle Heller sets the story squarely from 15-year-old Minnie’s perspective from the very first line: “I had sex today.” The story never judges Minnie’s enthusiasm—and confusion—over her first experiences, which happen to be with her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe. It doesn’t shy away from showing the self-involvement and immaturity of Monroe (a slippery Alexander Skarsgård), either. Instead, Heller lets the audience make their own judgments as Minnie learns to make hers, as well.

Narrated by Minnie, who is played by 22-in-real-life Bel Powley, the film lets us hear her try to make sense of her desires, behaviors, and needs with a self-awareness that none of the adults around her can match. Powley’s openness and comedic timing is incredibly refreshing; expect her star to rise quickly after this film makes its theatrical debut.  This is the kind of movie that I wish could be shown in highschools (it’s one of the smartest films about learning to make good sexual choices out there), but the explicit sex scenes will make that impossible. Make sure you catch it when it comes out…and take along some good friends for some vulnerable conversation afterward.

Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner in Paul Weitz's Grandma. Photo by Aaron Epstein.

Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner in Paul Weitz’s Grandma. Photo by Aaron Epstein.

Grandma

Director & Screenwriter: Paul Weitz
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, Sam Elliott
Premiered: Sundance 2015
Opens: August 21
Grandma is by Paul Weitz, whose credits include About a Boy, In Good Company, and Admission. Like his other films, Grandma strikes a nice balance between humor and heart-ache. Weitz tells a satisfying story of family tension and tenderness without a lot of fuss. Grandma is anchored by three strong women: Lily Tomlin is the irrepressible Elle, whose grouchiness covers up her deep grief after her longtime partner’s death. Julia Garner plays Elle’s granddaughter, Sage, who turns to Elle in a time of crisis. And Marcia Gay Harden is Judy, a no-BS business woman whose hard edges put her at odds with both her daughter, Sage, and her mom, Elle. I appreciated how all three of these outsized characters felt real inside the realm of Weitz’s story, and how natural their sparring and reconciliations (hesitant as they may be) felt. If you’re a fan of family-based dramedy, Lily Tomlin, and uncompromising female characters—like I am—don’t miss Grandma when it comes out later this month.

Even more intriguing films about women this month: 

  • Dark Places  (August 7) is based on a chilling novel by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn. Here, Charlize Theron plays the main character, Libby, whose family was murdered when she was a child. It promises to be another complicated-female-protagonist movie to fit with our August theme.
  • Ricky and the Flash (August 7) Meryl Streep as a musician trying to reconcile with her estranged family? Written by Diablo Cody? Yep, I’ll see that.
  • Mistress America  (August 14) is Noah Baumbach’s newest film starring Greta Gerwig. This coming-of-age story follows a young woman who starts a friendship with her fascinating future-stepsister…who has some growing up to do herself. It’s madcap, hyper-literate and more light-hearted than some of Baumbach’s other work.
  • Digging for Fire (August 21) is a great addition to Joe Swanberg’s prolific portfolio. He follows Lee (the ever-wonderful Rosemarie DeWitt) and her husband Tim (Jake Johnson) as they navigate questions of identity, commitment and modern-parenting-exhaustion over a single weekend.
  • Z for Zachariah (August 28) is a post-apocalyptic love triangle with Margot Robbie playing the very-capable-of-solo-survival Ann at the center.
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Sarah Magill

Sarah Magill has a full-time movie habit made possible by a day-time greeting card writing gig. She blogs at Gimme Some Film and is learning to write scripts and direct. She tries to balance her screen obsession with trail running, jazz singing, book clubbing, and hanging out with The Best Golden Retriever Ever, Copa.

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2 comments on “August in Movies: Films Featuring Fascinating Females”

  1. One thing that struck me while reading this post is that it’s positioned for women (“read on, sisters” etcetera). This is maybe understandable given the likely demographic of Gimme Some Oven readers (perhaps this is a sexist assumption) BUT I know many men who enjoy fascinating females, in movies and in real life.