Illustration by Andrea Nebhut
After I watched “Booksmart,” directed by Olivia Wilde, the first of (so far) seven times, I read review after review and watched one interview after the other. While many of these granted it the praise I personally think it deserves, it was hard to find reviews that didn’t in one way or another call “Booksmart” a “female ‘Superbad’” or a “girl version of ‘Superbad.'” Both films tell the story of two best friends having one last hurrah before going off to college, and the leads of the two movies — Beanie Feldstein in “Booksmart” and Jonah Hill in “Superbad” — happen to be siblings.
While I understand these comparisons (I guess), I think this goes beyond that the plot points of the two movies might be similar. To compare the two hardly allows “Booksmart” to stand as its own, and instead reduces it to a comparable “version” of a male-led film that came out more than 10 years ago.
Male-centered narratives are the default and always have been. I’d really like to stop seeing movies about women deemed “girl movies” or “girl versions” of movies when really, they’re just movies. Once a film is assigned to this specific audience, it is given less relevance or made out to be viewable only to women, which is a problem in and of itself.
This blatant dismissal of female-led films only perpetuates injustices against women and implies that women aren’t as worthy of certain achievements. Wilde, in an interview with Yahoo where she touches on the comparisons made between “Superbad” and “Booksmart,” said that this stems “from a certain reluctance to believe that women can make you laugh as hard.” Needless to say, this doesn’t bode well for a Hollywood that so often champions its progress on women’s issues.
Not to beat a dead horse, but the Oscar nominations this year — and the controversial (yet meme-able) lack of recognition of anyone other than white men — reaffirm the notion that women’s narratives are forced into the “girl movie” box and therefore are not given the time of day when it comes to formal recognition.
The Academy did as good a job as ever putting women in their place this year, especially by snubbing Greta Gerwig, of many examples, for her work as director of “Little Women.” While “Little Women” was nominated for other categories, other female-directed films “Booksmart” and “The Farewell” (written and directed by Lulu Wang) were denied nominations. The New York Times reported that these two films “received better reviews than three Oscar front-runners,” each of which were directed by men. This alone speaks volumes about how women in film are cast aside during award season, which ultimately is a result of a much broader issue.
While films like these are made by women and about women, they shouldn’t be considered just for us — “Booksmart” and “Little Women” are for everyone, especially for this generation. We should start encouraging more men to watch such movies in order not to reinforce that these films are any less relatable to them, deserve any less of their acclaim or only deserve to be admired in the shadow of another vaguely similar male-centered film.
If everyone is meant to enjoy film with an abundance of white male leads without putting them in a box, we should start doing the same for female-led films — and maybe even recognize the directors of these movies while we’re at it. There is also something to be said about the fact that the films that accurately and effectively portray women are most often made by women, which I think is a complex issue deserving of much more attention. Of course, I only begin to scratch the surface on this issue, and there’s several columns worth left to say about women in film alone.
Male-centered stories have historically been given more attention and critical acclaim, but let’s stop thinking that just because a movie is centered around women it deserves any less attention or can only be appreciated by women. To accept, by default, that wonderful and nuanced performances such as Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever’s in “Booksmart” are just the “girl version” of a movie about men is to imply that women aren’t as capable of such an achievement by their own merit.