I’ve read the truest test of freedom is living in a society where it’s safe to be unpopular. A woman needs this kind of veracity to build a life on her own terms. Some of us get there gradually, while others get right down to business.
Today’s REEL Talk explores the progressive ways that women are breaking free from old movie stereotypes and social confines that prevent them from becoming the independent, strong and popular, or unpopular, leaders they could be. When we meet Rachel Bronsen from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel who plays Mrs. Maisel, she is a Jewish housewife living in New York during the 1950’s and early 1960s.
Her role in this wildly popular, Emmy award-winning series, is written and directed by Amy Shermin-Pallidino. She’s a pro at turning classic female stereotypes upside down, and Mrs. Maisel, aka Midge, becomes an overnight sensation as a stand-up comedian. Midge is extremely talented but her burgeoning career threatens to destroy every social expectation there is to be what is expected – a good daughter, mother, wife and nest-builder.
Launched the 2017, the Netflix series has a slew of Golden Globe Awards in almost every category with nearly two dozen awards, ranging from Best Television Series and Outstanding Comedy, to Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Lead Actress. The popularity of the show and Mrs. Maisel’s journey is wrapped in the spirited dialogue and good-girl plot. We see, through Midge’s life and commentary, how women are held back and we can’t help but cheer the unpending of her suffocating and affluent life.
As an impeccably dressed, dutiful housewife from the Upper West side of Manhattan, Midge is ridiculously indulgent of her husband Joel’s dreams. Ironically, he wants to be a comedian but has zero talent. Ever the dutiful wife, Midge writes jokes and bribes the bar owner with her cooking to get a performance slot for Joel at the club. Exhaustive night rituals of cold cream and beauty perfection, and hiding their children from view by leaving them in the nanny’s care, are meant to ensure a happy marriage until Midge discovers Joel’s infidelity with his secretary.
Of course, she does what anyone would do and explodes in a drunken stupor on stage at the same comedy where Joel had failed. Her uproariously funny skit thrills the crowd, as she confesses her repression and calls out the chauvinistic and impossibly stupid expectations for women. We cheer until Midge is arrested and carted off to jail. The next seasons are Midge’s coming out as a career woman in comedy and the trade-offs every woman faces in reaching for the golden ring of success, not to mention struggling to find a work-life balance.
There’s something so delicious about women who stand up, break rules, and act out. We live vicariously through women like Midge who dream of something better. Midge tackles her problems, one at a time unlike Charlize Theron’s, who plays Andy (Andromache) in the Netflix film, The Old Guard. Andy is a modern version of Midge and much more evolved. She is confident and unquestioning as the leader of a group of immortal beings who have roamed the earth for more than 6,000 years to protect the interests of mankind.
Ironically, The Old Guard – the title of Theron’s film, is gone. The plucky Mrs. Maisel would have a heck of a time in this new world. Based on a comic book series by Greg Rucka, The Old Guard heroine, Andy, is unsatisfied with the world for different reasons than Midge. She laments the cruelty of man and corruption and, like many nurturing women who are tired of “holding down the fort,” Andy needs to defeat a pharmaceutical company to stop them from stealing her DNA for their own profitable and subversive purposes.
Fighting to prevent what will destroy world order, Andy is injured and her immortality is broken. She survives and her faith is renewed in a young army soldier who joins the group after surviving death from an Afghan attack. Without reading too much into the outcome, the real beauty of this movie (outside of the stunning and indomitable Charlie Theron), is what you don’t see. No one questions Andy’s leadership. She is a weapon for good. What a nice change and a fitting one, when you learn the origin of her name; in Greece literature, Andromache was a woman hidden in the Trojan Horse and given as a spoil to the victors.
Charlize has said publicly that her character is modern because she is not a victim fighting to revenge the death of a husband or the kidnapping of a child. Her mission as the leader of the immortals is her own; she is changing the course of history and ensuring human survival. Seeing women in this new guard role – in Nile, a former Navy seal, presents women as powerful and beholden to none.
No doubt, there’s a sequel in the works. I love that the hero of the movie just happens to be a woman saving the world. Nothing feels forced, and it’s refreshing to move past old stereotypes. Seeing the immortals as keepers of a larger good – protecting the life of the planet – sounds like a more compelling place for women to be and be seen. After all, we are fighting alongside men.