When I was 18 my parents and I watched a movie together wherein an 18-year-old character gets eaten out for like a full three minutes and honestly I have never fully recovered. But, being home for the holidays this week with nothing more to do than take naps and eat peanut brittle, I once again got roped into Family Movie Time.
First, my mother and I watched Clueless (1995). It took a little convincing–my mom doesn’t enjoy movies unless everyone in the room cries at least twice–but at the end she did this thing she does where she says “cute movie” and draws out the “u” and the “o” reeeeally long which means she actually liked it.
The movie was written and directed by Amy Heckerling, known for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Look Who’s Talking, and… apparently she directed an episode of The Office? Weird. Anyway. Clueless is fundamentally a movie about a wealthy, confident teenage girl doing some self-exploration and coming away from the end credits an even happier, more self-possessed person. I won’t go into too much more detail–this movie has been out for almost as long as I have so I’m not exactly adding to the zeitgeist here.
The next night my dad and I watched Sunshine Cleaning (2007), which is a very different movie from Clueless, but is at least equally wonderful. Written by Megan Holley and directed by Christine Jeffs, this movie just does an awesome job of having a few different but equally valid women on screen at once. And they nailed the sister dynamic between Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. They nailed it. If you’ve never been a sister to a sister you can’t possibly understand what that’s like, and you sure as hell can’t write it.
I’d shy away from calling Sunshine Cleaning a girl power* movie, but both there and in Clueless I was struck by the characters’ ownership of their experience. From start to finish, even when things weren’t going right (bad hair day or $40,000 in debt, depending), the women in these movies just kept. fucking. going.
Throughout Sunshine Cleaning, at every minor plot point, my dad (sweet baby angel that he is) turned to me in disbelief and said the same thing: “Wow. She’s a fighter, isn’t she?” And yeah, hell yeah she is–but that’s what happens when people write their own stories. They write their own experiences. People are fighters and women are people. Oooooh, revolutionary.
*Girl power movies are just movies where girls have agency and healthy relationships with other women and if we lived in a just world that would be all movies with girls in them but in entertainment media powerful women are identified separately from their peers indicating that they are not “normal” and I have no time for that byee haters