Nothing befuddles Hollywood execs like women who pay money to watch movies. It’s such a confounding phenomenon — humans! with lady parts! who have disposable income! and want to be entertained! — that studios perpetually stick with what they know: Dudes. It’s an infuriating reality, especially in the world of big screen comedies — and this week’s New Yorker shines a light on the whole shebang.
It’s nearly impossible for me to read a commentary on women in Hollywood — where, by the way, only 17 percent of writers, directors and producers are female — without adding my own rage-filled notes in the margin, but in his glowing profile of Anna Faris, Tad Friend leaves no ugly stone unturned. Friend followed Faris through part of the editing process for her forthcoming “bawdy” comedy What’s Your Number?, the story of a 30-something gal who panics after reading a Marie Claire article suggesting that a woman who has slept with more than 20 people will never get married. But it’s more than a profile piece: In meticulous detail, Friend examines the challenges a comic actress like Farris faces in male-driven industry.
Faris in Take Me Home Tonight (2011)
Friend didn’t have to make any sweeping generalizations. Agents, producers, studio executives, writers and directors handed handed misogynistic sound bites like Halloween candy.
Take Jody Hill, the writer/director of Observe and Report:
All the other women are more Dick Van Dyke Show, more light and sweet like Sandra Bullock. Anna’s more Lucille Ball — she’s funny like a guy would be funny.
Universal comedic appeal? That’s not “iconic funny lady” funny; that’s “funny like a guy” funny!
But there are plenty of funny ladies in Hollywood, right? That depends on what you mean by “plenty” and what you mean by “funny.” “Being funny is the first criterion for comic actors,” Friend writes, “and somewhere down the list for comic actresses.” For a comic actress to be successful, she has to be f–kable; she has to fall down a lot; and she has to be likable.
“What Anna has going for her,” one agent told Friend, “is that guys want to nail her.”
It’s a sentiment Tina Fey echoed in her recently released memoir, Bossypants: “I have a suspicion — and hear me out, ’cause this is a rough one — I have a suspicion that the definition of “crazy” in show business is a woman who keeps talking after no one wants to f–k her anymore.”
Faris in Observe and Report (2009)
As for likability, more than one person told Friend the key to making female character relatable is breaking her, which made him conclude that male viewers would rather “prep for a colonoscopy than experience a woman’s point of view, particularly if that woman drinks or swears or has a job or an orgasm.”
And what about the constant need to pratfall? After a whole lot of verbiage from the industry about rooting for the under dog, Faris summed it up like this: “[Male audiences want female comics] to be cutsey and safe, which is why women are always falling down, rather than grabbing their t–s and saying, “F–k you, bitches!”
Likability is another thing Tina Fey tackled in her memoir. When writing about Amy Poehler‘s first few days on the set of Saturday Night Live, Fey recalled a story in which Amy was horsing around doing something ” dirty and loud and ‘unladylike,’ and Jimmy Fallon jokingly told her to cut it out, that he didn’t like it.
Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t f–king care if you like it.” … With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not f–king care if you like it.
It makes sense, then, that Poehler is on Faris’ dream team, along with Kristen Wiig, Zooey Deschanel, Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Emma Stone and Mindy Kaling.
Faris in The House Bunny (2008)
“We should be the one building the films, and then plugging the men in at the end,” she told Friend. And she’s working to make that dream a reality, pitching and producing her own women-centric projects.
I hope the small screen success of funny women is a prophecy about the future of the silver screen — but until that day comes, it’s good to know that Anna Faris is leading the charge, fighting the good fight.
To read the full New Yorker article, you have to be a subscriber (or buy the single issue), but you can read a single-page blurb at newyorker.com. If you can get your hands on the magazine, though, I’d suggest it. “Funny Like a Guy” is one of the most honest critiques I’ve ever read about women in Hollywood.