Bechdel Test Fest presents: Reclaim the Rom-com

I was lucky enough to get free tickets for the launching of the Bechdel Test Fest, hosted at the wonderful Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel by Corrina Antrobus. In the first of what looks like a great schedule coming up we examined the merits and pitfalls of romantic comedies as a genre, and questioned: can rom-coms ever be feminist? There is, inherent in the genre of rom-coms, feminist potential. A group of women go to the cinema together, to see these films, share these stories. Why then, can they not manage, on the whole, to match up to the real lives of the women going to see the films?

First up, a love note to Genesis Cinema.


I believe that the kind of cinema you watch a film in has an impact on how you view a film; the customer service you receive, the environment inside, the price of a ticket. Genesis cinema has the feel of a cinema that truly loves film, with wonderful posters everywhere, coffee in abundance and a great bar area upstairs – where we were seated, ready and waiting to reclaim the rom-com.


We started with Obvious Child, starring Jenny Slate as recently dumped stand-up comedian Donna, who finds herself pregnant after a one night stand with Max (Jake Lacy). It’s a very frank and open story of pregnancy and abortion, and feels like the most real film about abortion to come out of the world of cinema. But I hope that’s not the only thing that anyone viewing this film takes from it, because it shouldn’t just be defined by its wonderful depiction of abortion. As well as that, it’s genuinely laugh out loud funny with a great script, as well as having genuinely heartfelt moments. Jenny Slate is amazing and, fun fact, she really was a gigging stand-up when she was approached to star in the film. The film also manages to depict how a comic’s life affects their routine, and what baring your soul on stage in the name of comedy can do. Obvious Child is a love story, yes, but it’s also about learning to love yourself and allowing yourself to be loved at difficult times in your life, whether that be by your friends, lovers or parents.

It seems to subvert many rom-com tropes; Donna is the character who needs to grow up, prepare for commitment or love, whilst Max, the male love interest, is the one who seems to have his life together and is the character who pushes for more of a romantic relationship. Plus, post watching the film I have been listening to Paul Simon on repeat non-stop and dancing around in the endless hope I will become Jenny Slate.

Following the film was a discussion from a panel featuring film academics and journalists; Corrina Antrobus was joined by Chloe Angyal, Alice Guilluy and Simran Hans.

In case you’re unaware, the Bechdel Test was developed by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, as a joke about how the test for if movies ‘pass’ should be if they have two named female characters who have a conversation that isn’t about a man. It was created 30 years ago, and has, especially in recent years, become feminist film critic’s calling card. However the panel, whom I quite agree with, were keen to point out that the test is merely a starting point. It doesn’t mean a film is feminist and there are many feminist films which wouldn’t pass, like Gravity and 10 Things I Hate About You, that could still be considered feminist. It is, in the grand scheme of all things that go on in film making, a low bar to try and pass, and when films fail it highlights more than anything just how few female characters there are in movies.

Interestingly, it was pointed out that romantic comedies in general are some of the most belittled films in popular culture – because they are designed for women. Because of this they’re seen as low culture or ‘guilty pleasures’. This discrediting of culture for women is a sad trend, but films like Obvious Child suggest that genuinely great and funny movies can be made, not just for women, but about women. It seems it is thought that films about women are for women only, and men couldn’t possibly enjoy them, whilst all other films should be endured by men and women alike. It’s also a trope that you find in comedy, with female comics getting turned down for gigs because there’s already a woman on the bill, or being thought of as just funny to women – as though gender has an impact on what you find funny or not.

But, in 2015, we still have a sexist pop culture. This, the panel argued, means that the perfect feminist piece of film could not exist, because sexism is inherent in the film industry. A part of this problem of there not being one ‘perfect’ feminist rom com is that there is no one feminist. Not all women are the same is very much the point of feminism, but feminists get grouped together under one umbrella of set opinions, despite being composed of different women with different views, experiences, and opinions. What one woman might consider to be a piece of feminist cinema might be another’s worst nightmare. We are all human and taste is subjective; this is still true if you happen to believe that men and women should be equal.

And when we do get rom-coms that don’t appear to tick our feminist film boxes it seems to be more of an issue than when it happens with big blockbusters or action movies, as though only rom-coms should be put under the microscope; as to why this might be I’m afraid I have no answers. Perhaps because rom-coms are the one genre that focus more on women’s stories it shows all the more when these female characters are unbelievable, two dimensional or forever repeating the same blueprint.  

The second film shown was The Philadelphia Story, re-released in cinemas this week and starring the indomitable Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord, a woman caught in a love triangle in the run up to her second wedding. Also featuring Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, the film was based on the Broadway musical of the same name and was released in 1940, at the height of the screwball comedy trend. It has great female characters who never stop matching the men in their wit or charm, such as the wise-cracking younger sister of Tracy played by Mary Nash, and the photographer working on a piece about the wedding, played by Ruth Hussey. These are all well developed and realistic female characters that you leave the film feeling like you know in a way that I don’t think you get from a lot of female characters in contemporary film.

The Bechdel Test Fest is going to go on and host more events, celebrating women on film and they’ve got some great events coming up. It’s a wonderful platform and I’m so pleased this is something that’s being discussed in a fun and entertaining way. Check out their Facebook and website.

The Bechdel Test asks that films have more than one named female character. All I ask from films is that they show me real women, in real situations, having real conversations. I want to see something recognisable on screen.



Sian’s radio recommendation of the week: Dilemma

The absolutely brilliant Sue Perkins hosts the panel show which asks what its guests would do when faced with a range of moral dilemmas.
With such a wide range of guests, the answers are incredibly varied and wickedly funny. The quick fire round at the end is particularly fun, and it’s particularly cheering to read what the show’s producer Ed Morrish has written about putting women on the show, especially in these times of people still questioning “are women funny?”.

The answer, my friends, is “Sometimes. And sometimes men aren’t funny. Because you can’t actually define people by their gender alone. OKAY?”

You have 2 days left to listen to episode four and episode five is on Tuesday. What a dilemma.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – a review by Lizzie

Lizzie Niemier kindly offered to write a review of the Hunger Games for my blog after she went to the premiere (where she asked Stanley Tucci “are you have a good night Mr Tucci” and told Jennifer Lawrence she was going to vomit on her dress). What follows is all her own words. 

I liked it because it was like the book which is what you want from a film that is supposed to be from a book. There was a lot of kissing and like, after nearly every kiss there was a spit string which was ew. Also, how is Willow Shields the same age as my little brother like what????? And how do they make j-hutch look taller than j-law in the movie when in reality he’s like a foot shorter I think this movie deserves an oscar purely for that, I am impressed.

It was really actiony but also it was actually supposed to be because the book has bare action. Sam Claflin’s American accent was a bit funny, like sometimes it was English and sometimes it was American, but I dont mean like varying from scene to scene it was different, I mean it was different syllable to syllable. Also there was a bit where Katniss is sliding into a pond or some other kind of body of water on her belly and no one else laughed but I did. It was quite a serious bit of the movie so I get why people didn’t laugh but it looked funny so yeah.

There were a lot more turkeys in the movie than I was expecting.

Jennifer Lawrence is a Goddess. I am bare impressed with Francis Lawrence bc I wasn’t sure about him cos I quite liked how that Gary bloke did the Hunger Games .but I loved the way f-law did catching fire especially as he had large shoes to walk in (idk if that’s the right saying soz if I’m wrong). F-Law did the fire on the chariots better than gary thingy did. My friend gabs probably won’t like the dress that effie wore for the reaping bc it was made of butterflies. I cried like four times.

Good movie. 10/10 would watch. I met Jennifer Lawrence at the premiere. She said she liked my dress. (This review is written by a j-law fan so is definitely 100% biased).

Gravity (2013)

Well. I certainly made the right choice in breaking my cinema fast with this film. You’ve probably heard the hype about this new film by Alfonso Cuaron, but if you haven’t then I will fill you in.

Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are two astronauts mid mission when they are commanded to abort and return to ship immediately. From there on in, things get pretty hairy.

It’s a film about second chances and the desire and fight to live. Sandra Bullock gives a 5 star performance, and I would be surprised if she didn’t get at least nominations, let alone wins. She is just incredible, and commands the screen for the whole 90 minutes. Her performance feels like a throwback to Sigourney Weaver in Alien, and its so refreshing to see a woman on the screen for a role that has nothing to do with her body or her sexuality. She is a brilliantly written character and it’s worrying how exciting that is. Clooney is also fun, managing to be funny and confident without being annoying or snide.

The look of the film is, corny line here, out of this world, and the camera skill and the technicality of it are breathtaking – outer space was made up entirely digitally with only the faces of Clooney and Bullock being filmed, and the way the whole thing is shot and the sound is used really makes you feel like you’re in space with them. The film does a brilliant job of pulling the audience out of their seats and creating bags of tension, bearing in mind that for all of the film there are only one or two people actually on screen.

One of the jobs of film is to evoke feelings within humans through metaphor and supposed circumstances, and Gravity does this through its story, characters and through what you see on screen. It is utterly sensational in both its script and its execution and you would be mad to miss what will surely be a top winner in the awards season.

Fun Fact Alert: in the time it takes you to watch the film, the International Space Station has done one entire circuit of the earth.

Hiddleston Most Wanted

A poster has been released for the sequel to the Muppets Movie, Muppets Most Wanted! If you loved the first one as much as I did I’m sure you’ll share my excitement. Fingers crossed it is as heartfelt and funny, even without Jason Segel and Amy Adams.

Plus, the sequel is going to feature Tom Hiddleston as the villain, news exciting because of how much he loved the first one:

and because we might get more interviews which end like this:

Muppets Most Wanted is set to be released in 2014.

Sian’s radio recommendation of the week: Bridget Christie Minds the Gap

She smelt a fart in the women’s studies section of a bookshop and decided to do some stand up about feminism.

After her win of the Fosters award at the Edinburgh Fringe with her show Bic For Her, Radio 4 are repeating the first series of Bridget Christie Minds the Gap. A brilliant series about what women’s rights means in the world today, it is wickedly sharp and searingly funny.

Bridget Christie is one of my heroes because she talks about something serious in such a funny way that it feels all encompassing, and as though it’s entirely possible for women to be close to having equal rights. It’s a stand up radio comedy show that manages to not only make me laugh but to give me hope as well.

You have six days to listen to the first episode here. Do it!

Sian’s radio recommendation of the week: Newsjack

Newsjack is newsback! (That’s the best joke I’ve ever made.)

The satirical sketch show which anyone can write for returns for its ninth series and is just as fresh and funny as it ever was. Nice one radio 4 listeners of Britain.

It’s hosted by the fabulous Justin Edwards, who is joined by a combination of Margaret Cabourn-Smith (who’s also in John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme), Lewis MacLeod, Pippa Evans, and Nadia Kamil.

There’s tons of helpful tips on the website about writing sketches and you can submit any sketch ideas you might have here.

You can listen to episode one here. It’s on iPlayer for 4 more days so get to it!