Kristy reviewed Support the Girls earlier this week, and I agree with her thoughts on the film. The comedy from filmmaker Andrew Bujalski does a good job capturing the camaraderie that develops between women in a place that is profiting off their physicality but insisting it’s not exploiting them (late-stage capitalism, you asshole), and the lead performance from Regina Hall is an excellent display of her combination of grittiness, resourcefulness, and protectiveness of girls she considers family.
“Women’s work” has long been a gendered, demeaning term meant to keep us in our place, that place being the kitchen or the bedroom or whatever other elements of the domestic sphere, but yeah, fuck that. All work is women’s work, and Support the Girls is the latest film to explore how women work, how they work together, the process that goes into their professional development, and the challenges they face and successes they experience in the workplace, whether that’s an office or a newsroom or at NASA or even in space.
And so, let’s do get into it, with this ode to women in film doing the damn work.
Eilis in Brooklyn
Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) arrives in Brooklyn from Ireland on her own, leaving her mother and sister behind and starting a new life. She excels in her classes, strikes up a relationship with Italian-American Tony Fiorello (the adorable Emory Cohen), and over time becomes more confident in her own identity and body thanks to the nudging of Miss Fortini (the always-stylish-onscreen Jessica Paré), her supervisor at her department store job. With Miss Fortini’s guidance, she grows increasingly poised and sophisticated, and her transformation into “American girl” is cemented with that green bathing suit, the one that captures Tony’s attention and is a turning point for who Eilis is. Her success at work and her own self-assurance are tied together.
Jane in Broadcast News
The 1987 romantic comedy is a genre classic, and the heart and soul of this movie is Holly Hunter’s Jane Craig, a whip-smart news producer with an impeccable memory, a strong writing voice, and endless amounts of ambition. Time and time again throughout the film, she pushes the crew to the limit, looking for that one specific word or that one specific image that will best communicate a story to its viewers. She’s a pain sometimes, but she’s a whiz at her job, which is what makes her ethical dilemma in the film regarding the behavior of reporter Tom (William Hurt), and best friend Aaron’s (Albert Brooks) feelings for her, that much more poignant.
Ripley in Aliens
After Alien, we all knew Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley could handle herself. I mean, she says it!
But her self-sufficiency, and being really good at her job, are the focus again in Aliens—not only because her “I can drive that loader, I have a Class-2 rating” is met with delight by Michael Biehn’s Hicks, but because her skill with that loader later helps her save Hicks and surrogate daughter Newt. She backs up “Get away from her, you bitch!” with her technical expertise, and her handling of that heavy machinery turns her again into a hero.
Erin Brockovich in, uh, Erin Brockovich
The Steven Soderbergh movie I’ve rewatched the most, with a performance from Julia Roberts that deserved the hell out of that Best Actress Oscar she won. This is Roberts pivoting fully away from her romantic comedy roots into something harder-edged, and she nails it, capturing all the frustration, disgust, and shock of a woman unraveling a vast conspiracy piece by piece. But how Erin snares you is with her utter lack of bullshit — it’s what makes her unpopular at work but appealing to all the people she meets during her research compiling the class-action lawsuit against PG&E, and Roberts does a fantastic job showing the layers of this woman, how her desire to protect people combines with her righteous need to put the wrongdoers in their place.
She didn’t need a law degree to do the work, but compassion and verve, and Roberts’s Erin Brockovich brings it.
Elle Woods in Legally Blonde
There’s nothing else to say about Reese Witherspoon’s perfect turn as the patriarchal-expectations-smashing Elle Woods than what’s already conveyed in that gif, is there?
Mary, Katherine, and Dorothy in Hidden Figures
The women in Hidden Figures are a force. Taraji P. Henson’s Katherine, Janelle Monae’s Mary, and Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy are fiercely intelligent, integral to the NASA mission, and well-aware of how underappreciated they are. Nevertheless, they keep striving to do the damn work. Katherine finds a way to perform her calculations even when set up for failure with heavily redacted documents. Mary becomes the first black woman in their area to pursue an engineering degree so that she can apply for a promotion she rightly deserves.
And Dorothy teaches herself, and later her team, Fortran, a programming language that makes the black women at NASA vital for their future work with IBM computers. All of the women in Hidden Figures are committed to their jobs, regardless of the racism and prejudice they face, and their devotion helped get us into space.
Letty in The Fast and the Furious
It’s been frustrating over the past few Fast and the Furious movies watching Michelle Rodriguez’s character Letty be increasingly sidelined into a romantic interest solo, because this series started so strongly by writing her as having equal status with the men in her crew.
She’s a mechanic at Dom’s (Vin Diesel) garage, she smokes guys in races all the time, and she comes to the rescue when that trucker attacks Vince (Matt Schulze). The movie doesn’t present her character as if she’s in the crew because she’s dating Dom, but because she’s probably even better than he is, an idea that comes up in subsequent movies after she loses her memory and Dom has to fill her in on how they met, became friends, became heist partners, and fell in love. If only those same movies gave her more to do.
Mallory in Haywire
Um, I really just wanted an excuse to post this scene again, because Gina Carano’s Mallory Kane is an unparalleled spy whose ass-kicking skills know no bounds. I mean, look at what she’s doing to Michael Fassbender’s face up there! I’m afraid! I’m jealous! And I’m also impressed!
Rachel in Crazy Rich Asians
Too soon for this one? I don’t think so. Rachel Chu’s (Constance Wu) profession is mentioned early and often in Crazy Rich Asians, and it plays a key role in one of her final showdowns with potential mother-in-law Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). As the youngest economics professor ever at New York University, Rachel specializes in game theory, and we see her in the classroom, besting her teaching assistant at a card game and holding her students’ rapt attention. Later on, her career and her exceptional status in her field are shaded by her boyfriend Nick’s (Henry Golding) family, but those very same skills and expertise are what she wields in her final mahjong game against Eleanor—when she’s defending both her love and her way of life. It’s moving as hell, and it’s tied directly into Rachel’s work.
Ms. Albright in Love, Simon
Natasha Rothwell is a joy whenever she pops up on HBO’s Insecure, and she was similarly refreshing as the drama teacher Ms. Albright in Love, Simon. Up until a certain point, you think Ms. Albright is no-nonsense but also sort of disengaged from the school’s social structure—but then there’s that scene in the cafeteria. She takes on school bullies, calls them out on their harassment of gay students, and reports their behavior to school administration. Rothwell is hilarious, yes, but her performance of a teacher willing to be an advocate for and an ally of her students adds some real-life groundedness to the romantic comedy, too.
Other films come to mind that I didn’t write about here: Frances McDormand’s police chief Marge Gunderson in Fargo, Rachel McAdams’s investigative journalist Sacha Pfeiffer in Spotlight, Shu Qi in the gorgeous wushu film The Assassin, Sally Field’s pro-union cotton mill worker in Norma Rae, Pam Grier’s flight attendant and gun runner in Jackie Brown, and all the women who make up the team in Annihilation, including Natalie Portman’s biologist, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s psychologist, Tessa Thompson’s and Tuva Novotny’s scientists, and Gina Rodriguez’s medic.
Did any of your favorites make this list? Which movies resonate most with you about women at work? Meet me in the comments!
Image sources (in order of posting): Magnolia, Warner Brothers Media