Writing by Ruth Richards
We may love films like Mean Girls, Easy A, Clueless, and Bend it like Beckham (with good reason), but if you’re looking for a feel good, female led film, there are lots of underappreciated options out there! The following films focus on female characters who are more than just the “strong female character” stereotype—they are complex, dealing with things like vulnerability and loneliness, and face a variety of personal challenges. Each story, however, is punctuated with a sense of optimism, hope, and ultimately joy, making them perfect for a night in of good vibes and laughter.
Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour; 2012)
Wadjda is a film marked by firsts. The director, Haifaa Al-Mansour, is the first female filmmaker to emerge from Saudi Arabia and her first feature film is the story of a young girl trying to save enough money to buy her very own bicycle. Despite being repeatedly told that bikes are not for girls, ten-year-old Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) will not be dissuaded, and enters a Koran recital competition in order to win the prize money—enough to buy the bike of her dreams. Waad Mohammed brings a wonderfully spirited, cheeky energy to the titular character, and the exploration of the mother-daughter relationship is a real highlight. It’s a nuanced, genuine, heartwarming film.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki; 1989)
When once asked why he always chooses girls for his main characters, Miyazaki replied:
“At first I thought: ‘It’s no longer a man’s world; no longer an age when just causes are relevant.’ But after ten years, it seems silly to keep saying that. So now, when people ask me your question, I just respond, ‘Because I like girls.’ That answer seems more real.” (Starting Point)
Really, I could include almost any movie by Hayao Miyazaki on this list and it would work just as well, but Kiki holds a special place in my heart. A young witch who must set out on her own for a year to learn her craft, Kiki finds herself out of place and feeling lost in a new town, struggling to learn what her purpose may be. Kiki’s struggles with self-confidence and her uncertainty about her future are all very relatable, and it is through the kindness of friends that she is able to overcome her problems. It is one of the more uplifting films Miyazaki has made.
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach; 2012)
Frances Ha is the perfect film if you’re looking to cheer yourself up. Co-written by frequent collaborators Greta Gerwig (who also plays the title character, Frances) and Noah Baumbach, the film follows Frances as she navigates life, work, and friendship in New York. This is a little difficult, because she doesn’t have a permanent apartment, she’s a dancer who doesn’t really get to dance, and she’s not currently on speaking terms with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Despite all this, Frances takes life one day at a time, refusing to let “fate” take control. It’s a film full of warmth, optimism, and is ultimately about learning that, in the words of Frances, “Sometimes it’s good to do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed do it.”
Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee; 1995)
You’ve probably already seen a Jane Austen adaptation, maybe even without realizing it (Clueless, for example, was based on Jane Austen’s Emma). This mostly-faithful adaptation was written by the inimitable Emma Thompson, who also stars Elinor Dashwood. After the death of Mr. Dashwood, his second wife and three daughters are left with a pitiful inheritance, and must rely on the kindness of distant relatives to be able to live comfortably. Elinor and Marianne (Kate Winslet, pre-Titanic), polar opposites in temperament, find themselves at the centre of the matchmaking schemes of their mother and neighbours, but their severe lack of fortune has damaged their prospects. If you’re in the mood for dramatic romance, which refuses to compromise on wit, this is for you. Austen’s original sly commentary on the position of women in England in the 17th/18th century remains true, and the entangling lover stories of Marianne, Elinor, Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), and Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant) are just the right amount of melodramatic. Don’t worry, it sounds like it could be a tragedy, but you’ll be more than willing to see it through to the end!
Victor Victoria (Blake Edwards; 1982)
If you’ve only seen Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, or The Princess Diaries (as practically perfect as she is in everything), do yourself a favour and watch Victor Victoria. Trust me. “A woman, pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman” just about sums it up, as Victoria, a struggling soprano in 1930s Paris, is convinced by cabaret singer Toddy (Robert Preston) to pretend to be a man to get a job singing as a female impersonator. The film deservedly won an Oscar for Best Music, Original Score—it will only take Julie Andrews performing Le Jazz Hot as a woman, pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman, to know why. The film has a wickedly dry sense of humour, and features brilliant supporting performances from the likes of Preston and James Garner, a nightclub owner who finds himself confused when he thinks he may be attracted to the alter ego “Victor”.[share]