Women in cinema exist mostly to help the male look better; so an awfully bubbly chatterbox girl (‘Khoobsurat’ or ‘Jab We Met’) will make a serious guy laugh and get into stupid situations which is all fun. If not that, then there’ll be a tragic girl, haunted by demons, who will give the guy a reason to play hero. It’s all well and good if you watch cinema mindlessly. For those who don’t, seeing these female characters again and again will be a pain. Here are a few movies that had lead female characters who weren’t run-of-the-mill. I’m not including anime or series (try ‘Ergo Proxy’ or BBC’s ‘North and South’ if you want a good female lead in either category).
1. Castaway On The Moon
I give you one of my favorite romance movies…and I usually hate romantic movies. The girl is an extreme introvert; one who doesn’t even step out of her room. She lives her life online and takes pictures of the moon via telescope. The routine of her daily life is ruined however when she looks through the telescope and sees a ‘crazy alien’. Slowly they build a bond and the girl learns to step out of her self-constructed shell. This is a story of two social losers who somehow learn more about the complexities of life and find love – all through unusual circumstances.
2. Safety Not Guaranteed
Aubrey Plaza will be familiar to those who watched ‘Parks and Recreation’. She comes back in this movie in a similar sort of role, except she’s not aggressive. Plaza plays a girl who is unenthusiastic about life and has no goals or ambitions. Working as an intern, she gets to go with her boss and another intern to dig further into an ad that had appeared in the local papers; a man is looking for someone to go back in time with him and he says he’s done this before. As she starts to fall for him, she has to decide if he’s a nut or for real.
I’ve liked Parker Posy since I first saw her and Toni Colette is a pretty damn good actress. Both of them are part of a group of four temporary workers (along with Lisa Kudrow) in a big office. Despite being part of the office, the temp status keeps the others aloof from them. If you’ve ever worked in an office where you felt alienated from everyone, you’ll probably like this movie. Colette is a socially awkward newbie who is helped to adjust by Posey, who is an outspoken and brash female. A must-watch for those who have become prey to office politics without ever taking part in it.
I have yet to see another movie that captured the inner world of the introvert the way ‘Amelie’ did. The way Amelie finds pleasure in the little things in life is what made audiences love her. Her imagination is always running two feet ahead of her, yet for the most part she keeps her interactions with others minimum. As the movie progresses, Amelie is goaded by a ‘brittle-boned’ artist to take chances; she then sets out to get the love of her life in the most unusual way. For those who wish to understand what introverts do when they’re ‘introverting’, watch Amelie to get an idea.
5. While You Were Sleeping
Lucy Eleanor Moderatz (played by Sandra Bullock) is a quiet and introverted woman who works at a train ticket counter. She has a long-time crush on a regular passenger and gets to save him from danger one fine day. What follows is a screwball comedy with a lot of heart. A man in a coma, a loud but close-knit family, a romance that’s unwilling to bloom…all go to make this an “Awww”-inspiring movie. While Lucy is in need of some rescuing, it’s mostly she herself who plays her rescuer.
Based on Daphne du Maurier’s best-selling classic novel, this movie follows the marital life of a nice but out-of-her depth Rebecca, who goes from being a demanding old woman’s secretary to the wife of a rich but mysterious man. Rebecca is caught in a web of intrigue from the moment she steps foot in Manderley, her husband’s house. Plagued by presence of her husband’s first wife, who died under mysterious circumstances, Rebecca grows and gains in confidence in both herself and her marriage.
7. Jane Eyre
I would strongly recommend reading the book before you watch the movie, simply because Bronte’s words and your imagination will make more of the story than any movie could ever match. There’s plain Jane – not beautiful but still captivating, not very religious but strongly spiritual, passionate yet cautious – who falls into a mystery as she falls in love with her good-looking employer who has a mysterious past. Jane Eyre has such strength of character and such a strong spirit that she takes life head on and has inspired generations of readers.
8. As Good As It Gets
An obsessive compulsive, misanthropic writer is so used to this one waitress serving him that he goes out of his way to not only help and annoy her but also to mess up his own perfectly-structured life. Carol Connelly is a waitress who works very hard because she has to take care of her acutely asthmatic son and pay all his medical bills. When help arrives in the shape of weird writer Melvin, she doesn’t jump with joy or bow in gratitude, she deals with him and his help in a most sensible and wary way.
9. Mixed Nuts
This has got to be one of the best Christmas movies out there; it was based on the French movie ‘Le Père Noël est une ordure‘. Nearly all the female characters are realistic and relate-able. There’s shy and emotional Catherine who feels time is running out, the un-trusting and grouchy Mrs Munchnik, a pregnant but determined-to-get-away-from-her-husband Gracie, and the lonely transvestite who is seeking some company. Throw in a serial killer, a musical neighbor, a lift that breaks down frequently and guest appearances by Jon Stewart and Parker Posey, and you’ve got one hilarious movie.
10. The Others
Nicole Kidman plays the role of a mother, Grace Stewart, who is looking after her two children after her husband was most likely killed in World War II in this thriller/horror movie. She is weighed down by responsibilities as her children are supposedly sickly and has trouble finding and keeping helpful servants. As she deals with the new servants whom she can’t rely on and her children’s ‘over-active imaginations’, Grace begins to realize that her house may truly be haunted. Even though at times it looks like Grace is losing her mind under pressure, she is always a woman who tries to do what she thinks is right.
11. Beauty And The Beast
While most fairy tales and Disney movies have heroines that land in trouble for no fault of their’s (getting cursed, being forced to live in towers, getting banished), Belle is a female lead who lands up in the castle of the Beast because she wants to protect her father. She not only willingly trades places with her father, she also overcomes her fear of the Beast and goes on to cause him to change. She is also a girl who likes to read and stay informed instead of daydreaming about getting married; she longs for adventure and when life brings it to her, Belle rises to the occasion.
Lee Holloway is a girl who was recently released from an institution for harming herself; she is part of a big dysfunctional family and is socially awkward and kind of ‘lost’. She starts to work as a secretary for a sexually dominant man who, while he dominates the submissive Lee, also gets her to stop harming herself. While Lee falls in love with her boss, he is genuinely upset over his sexual appetites and fires her. Lee goes from being highly awkward and unsure of herself to braving her family, friends and even the media to win back her boss and continue their BDSM relationship.
13. The Fifth Element
This sci-fi movie ultimately deals with the survival of Earth. There are inter-planetary goings-on that put the Earth in grave danger. An ancient artifact is used to create a woman, Leeloo, who runs out of the lab and lands in the taxi of a former special forces officer, Korben Dallas. Leeloo is at once highly intelligent and extremely naive, very strong and yet very vulnerable, capable and yet needs someone to look after her. With the fate of the Earth resting on her, Leeloo will do whatever she can to make sure that the great evil doesn’t win. Watch to see Milla Jovovich make orange hair look natural.