an unpopular aggravation

I’ve wanted to post this ever since I saw The Avengers even though it’s something I’ve fought with for quite a while. The problem is, it’s something of a delicate topic, especially on a blog all about girls and geeks and therefore by implication empowering strong female characters and kicking ass and… stuff.

But here it is.

It’s really hard to like interesting female characters in stories when you don’t like the actress portraying her.

There, I said it. I don’t like a lot of actresses and most especially I don’t like the ones that casting directors seem to love. And I’m not trying to be mean. I’m sure they are decent human beings and nice and if we ever met we’d get along perfectly well and possibly even be friends. Good for them for working and making money to support themselves and the people in their lives. I’m not trying to be disparaging.

But at some level there’s a very basic dynamic at play when watching a movie. I want to be attracted to the guy and relate to the girl. I assume the reverse is true for guys when they’re watching movies. But it’s hard to relate to the girl when I don’t like the girl… which is where the divide between character and actress comes into play.

It’s annoying to me, I love seeing stories about girls who are both strong and feminine and I want to be able to identify with them and root for them and the actresses they so often cast stand in the way of that. And since I started with The Avengers, there’s no reason not to name names at this point.

I loved what Joss did with Black Widow. She was strong and cunning and used her pain for really interesting purposes so that it didn’t destroy her. But I can’t stand Scarlett Johansson. I don’t understand all the hype around her because she’s not a great actress and mostly she just annoys me. So, here I am with a character I really want to dive into this story with and the thing standing in the way is the woman embodying her.

That’s what I deal with through most of the movies I really want to love.

And if you’ve been reading this blog and my reviews, you’ve probably picked up on that pattern because there are very few actresses I actually like. Which is why I think I’m something of a minority and hence the title of this entry. But it’s easier to like guys when all I have to do is be attracted to them. It’s a lot harder when you have to identify with the girl or relate to her. Because most actresses come across as shallow and vapid and really annoying (even though I know some of them are nice people – that doesn’t make them any more complex or interesting or any better of an actress). I keep wanting to use the word vacuous but I don’t want to be mean.

ETA: Kel prompted me to examine why in more depth (because that’s what she does and she’s good at it) and so I figured out these actresses are so wrong in these roles because I don’t believe them.
I don’t see strength of character in their eyes and so don’t believe that they are a force to be reckoned with in this world. And then I rebel against so many people insisting that they are.

Maybe the worst part of it is, Hollywood is working with a limited pool of actresses for their action roles.

I never want to see Olivia Wilde in another movie.
I don’t like Scarlett Johannsson or Jessica Biehl or Mila Jovovich.
Kristen Stewart should not even be a part of this conversation but thanks to Snow White and the Huntsman she kind of is. Could she not ever work again, please.
I’d also be ok if Blake Lively never did anything else but Gossip Girl.
Anne Hathaway? Well, we all know Christopher Nolan has done very badly with Batman’s women.
I’m sure it’s wildly unpopular, but I don’t even like Jennifer Lawrence. She’s the best actress of the bunch, I’m not denying her talent. But I don’t relate to her so I don’t love her. ETA: I like her much, much better now after Catching Fire and especially Mockingjay part 1. I now think part of my issues with her may have been more about the director.
Charlize Theron has done a few action films and I enjoy her in genre work. She’s a good actress and great as the queen in Snow White and the Huntsman but I don’t know that she’s always believably bad ass.
Feel free to tell me in the comments who I’m missing or how very wrong I am.

I know that list doesn’t include Angelina Jolie. Because I actually like her. I don’t think she intended to become any sort of definitive female action hero, but I think it suits her and I like watching her films.
I also like Kate Beckinsale a lot. She’s beautiful and believably tough and interesting and completely makes the Underworld films worthwhile.
Kiera Knightley I like in Pirates. And that’s all she’s really tried to do in the action genre which I’m ok with. (I’m ignoring King Arthur completely.)
Hayley Atwell was good in Captain America and I’d be interested to see her in more films. There’s an intelligence and a strength to her that I think is believable.
Lena Headey has bounced between tv and films but she’s really strong, believably fierce, wonderfully complex and doesn’t annoy me at all. I wish she would work more.

Really the intention of this entry isn’t to parse out which actresses I like or don’t or to complain. It’s to incite Hollywood to step it up. They’re finally beginning to give us strong, interesting women in movies. Now go one step further and give us actresses complex and interesting enough to live up to the characters they’re portraying.

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