Call me a feminist (go ahead; call me one. I wouldn’t hold it against you), but there don’t seem to be as many outstanding female heroines in movies as there are male heroes. Kick-ass heroines in action films are more celebrated for their ability to look hot in a catsuit whilst firing bullets (ahem–Angelina Jolie–ahem) than they are their courage and strength, and most female leads in romantic comedies are shallow and weak-willed caricatures of what movie producers imagine real women to be like (retail therapy and men bashing sessions over cocktails, anyone?).
And then there are those fabulously magical free-spirited “indie chicks” emulated by every Urban Outfitters-clad hipster (Natalie Portman in Garden State, Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, etc.). They’re fun and light-hearted and gorgeous and quirky, they steal the hearts of the pathetic male anti-hero, and I’m pretty sure they don’t exist in real life. Maybe in the Annex or Trinity Bellwoods … or the entirely fashionable city of Montreal. But since the aforementioned films are from a male’s perspective, they’re glistening beacons of tiny-waisted perfection, quirks and all. And thus, I hate them.
So when I was wracking my brain trying to think of movie heroines that didn’t annoy me in some capacity, I came up with a pretty short–yet specific–list. My choices may surprise you …
Without further ado, my top five favourite female heroines in film:
5. Kate Winslet as Iris in “The Holiday” (2006)
Kate Winslet pretty much rocks in everything she does, but for some reason, in the Christmas romcom “The Holiday,” she’s particularly charming. I don’t know if it’s her adorable English cottage with the cozy fireplace and books, her acknowledgment of being pathetic over that schmuck who uses her, or her unlikely friendship with Amanda’s elderly neighbour, Arthur Abbott, but she’s so darn likable, especially in comparison to the irritating Cameron “I’m-a-gorgeous-goofball” Diaz.
Kate has class, and although Iris is wasting her time being in love with an unavailable schmuck … well, who hasn’t? At least she realizes that “you’re supposed to be the leading lady in your own life, for God’s sake!” and she handles her feelings for Miles (Jack Black) with grace and restraint. She recovers her self-esteem and even displays healthy doses of gumption. I watch this movie every Christmas and always find myself loving Kate Winslet a little more each time.
4. Emma Thompson in anything, but particularly “Love Actually” (2003)
I want to be Emma Thompson when I grow up. Truly; she’s a marvel. She’s intelligent, funny, thoroughly British, and I’ve loved her in every film she’s ever been in. Even “Nanny McPhee.” Like Kate, she’s a class act and has such an un-Hollywood vibe about her that is so refreshing (Sidebar: Emma and Kate do a bang-up job as sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood in the 1995 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility.” But I digress …) Emma seems like someone you’d be able to sit by the fireplace with under heaps of thick knit blankets during a snowstorm, having a nice tea and a long chat punctuated by moments of comfortable silence.
… But enough of my Emma Thompson idolatry. There’s a moment in the film “Love Actually” that my friend and I absolutely adore and pretty much sums up why her character Karen is so wonderful. After attending a work Christmas party where she observes her husband (Alan Rickman) flirting with his pretty young secretary, she doesn’t fly into a jealous rage and throw teacups at his head or demand an explanation or cry irrationally which is probably what most of us would have done. Instead, she remarks how pretty the secretary is, and when her husband makes a glib response, she says simply, “Be careful there.”
As my friend says, such grace. It takes a very confident, self-composed woman to be able to deal with that situation the way Karen does. I recommend watching “Love Actually” just for how Emma Thompson’s character handles her husband’s suggested infidelity. It’s quite inspiring.
3. Audrey Tautou as Amelie Poulain in “Amelie” (2001)
To whomever says that shyness and introversion are negative characteristics, I say phooey. Amelie is a shy, introverted loner living in Paris who enjoys the small pleasures in life, like skipping stones, and engaging in random, anonymous acts of kindness. If she wasn’t that way, could her sweet “stratagems” have that much of an impact? I love this line about her: Amelie still seeks solitude. She amuses herself with silly questions about the world below …
Even though her neighbour Dufayel tries to convince her to stand up and do something (“So my little Amelie, you don’t have bones of glass. You can take life’s knocks. If you let this chance pass, eventually, your heart will become as dry and brittle as my skeleton. So, go get him, for Pete’s sake!”), she pursues Nino on her own terms and in her own way.
I love the part where Amelie goes home with Nino’s photo album and is lying in bed with it (as shown in the picture above), and the narrator says: “Any normal girl would call the number, meet him, return the album and see if her dream is viable. It’s called a reality check. The last thing Amelie wants.” So she’s a little reserved, a little scared of putting herself out there and possibly getting hurt or torn from her dream world. I can identify with that, and that’s why I love Amelie so much. She reminds me of one of my favourite quotes by Virginia Woolf: “No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”
2. Olivia Williams as Miss Stubbs in “An Education” (2009)
I’ve already blogged about why I love Miss Stubbs at the end of this blog entry about “An Education,” so you can just read it there …
1. Juliette Binoche as Vianne in “Chocolat” (2000)
In a town of closed minds and cold hearts, Vianne is a breath of fresh air in “Chocolat.” She’s upbeat and positive, she sees the best in others (even the town’s stodgy mayor), she’s able to melt and win over her toughest critics, she wears bright coral heels everywhere she goes, and she fills her life with goodwill, joy, and fun. She follows her heart. Oh, and she owns a chocolate shop! What’s not to love?
Honourable Mentions: Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), Sophie Quinton as Avril in “April in Love” (2006), Rebecca Hall as Vicky in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008), Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo in “Frida” (2002), and Drew Barrymore as Josie in “Never Been Kissed” (1999).
It just occurred to me that among my top five favourite females in film, three are British and two are French. Interesting, n’est-ce pas?
… So, back to you, blogosphere. Who are your favourite film heroines and why?