A guide to women in the movies.
by Mindy Kaling October 3, 2011
A few years ago, I sat down for a meeting with some executives at a movie studio that I will call Thinkscope Visioncloud. Thinkscope Visioncloud had put out several of my favorite movies, and they wanted to see if I had any feature ideas. I was very excited. I have a great job writing for “The Office,” but, really, all television writers do is dream of one day writing movies. I’ll put it this way: At the Oscars the most famous person in the room is, like, Angelina Jolie. At the Emmys the huge exciting celebrity is Bethenny Frankel. You get what I mean. It’s snobby and grossly aspirational, but it’s true.
The junior executives’ office at Thinkscope Visioncloud was nicer than any room within a fifty-mile radius of the “Office” studio. After I finished pitching one of my ideas for a low-budget romantic comedy, I was met with silence. One of the execs sheepishly looked at the other execs. He finally said, “Yeah, but we’re really trying to focus on movies about board games. People really seem to respond to those.”
For the rest of the meeting, we talked about whether there was any potential in a movie called “Yahtzee!” I made some polite suggestions and left.
I am always surprised at what movie studios think people will want to see. I’m even more surprised at how often they are correct. Based on what I’ve learned from my time in Hollywood, the following titles are my best guess as to what may soon be coming to a theatre near you:“Bananagrams 3D”
“Apples to Apples 4D” (The audience is pummelled with apples at the end of the movie.)
“Sharks vs. Volcanoes”
“King Tut vs. King Kong”
“Streptococcus vs. Candidiasis” (Strep Throat vs. Yeast Infection)
“Street Stupid” (“Street Smart” sequel)
“The Untitled Liam Neeson Vendetta Project”
“Human Quilt” (horror movie)
“The Cute Bear from Those Toilet-Paper Ads Movie”
Those movies all sound great to me, and, incidentally, I am prepared to write any of them, if there is interest. But what I’d really like to write is a romantic comedy. This is my favorite kind of movie. I feel almost embarrassed revealing this, because the genre has been so degraded in the past twenty years that saying you like romantic comedies is essentially an admission of mild stupidity. But that has not stopped me from enjoying them.
I like watching people fall in love onscreen so much that I can suspend my disbelief in the contrived situations that occur only in the heightened world of romantic comedies. I have come to enjoy the moment when the male lead, say, slips and falls right on top of the expensive wedding cake. I actually feel robbed when the female lead’s dress doesn’t get torn open at a baseball game while the JumboTron camera is on her. I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world. For me, there is no difference between Ripley from “Alien” and any Katherine Heigl character. They are equally implausible. They’re all participating in a similar level of fakey razzle-dazzle, and I enjoy every second of it.
It makes sense, then, that in the romantic-comedy world there are many specimens of women who—like Vulcans or Mothra—do not exist in real life. Here are some examples:
When a beautiful actress is cast in a movie, executives rack their brains to find some kind of flaw in the character she plays that will still allow her to be palatable. She can’t be overweight or not perfect-looking, because who would pay to see that? A female who is not one hundred per cent perfect-looking in every way? You might as well film a dead squid decaying on a beach somewhere for two hours.
So they make her a Klutz.
The hundred-per-cent-perfect-looking female is perfect in every way except that she constantly bonks her head on things. She trips and falls and spills soup on her affable date (Josh Lucas. Is that his name? I know it’s two first names. Josh George? Brad Mike? Fred Tom? Yes, it’s Fred Tom). The Klutz clangs into stop signs while riding her bike and knocks over giant displays of fine china in department stores. Despite being five feet nine and weighing a hundred and ten pounds, she is basically like a drunk buffalo who has never been a part of human society. But Fred Tom loves her anyway.
The Ethereal Weirdo
The smart and funny writer Nathan Rabin coined the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl to describe this archetype after seeing Kirsten Dunst in the movie “Elizabethtown.” This girl can’t be pinned down and may or may not show up when you make concrete plans with her. She wears gauzy blouses and braids. She likes to dance in the rain and she weeps uncontrollably if she sees a sign for a missing dog or cat. She might spin a globe, place her finger on a random spot, and decide to move there. The Ethereal Weirdo appears a lot in movies, but nowhere else. If she were from real life, people would think she was a homeless woman and would cross the street to avoid her. But she is essential to the male fantasy that even if a guy is boring he deserves a woman who will find him fascinating and perk up his dreary life by forcing him to go skinny-dipping in a stranger’s pool.