Women Who Say “Balls”: A New Brand of Leading Lady

Women Who Say "Balls": A New Brand of Leading Lady

Drew Barrymore in Going the Distance

The last time I saw Drew Barrymore and Justin Long in a movie together, I was so horrified by the collection of women I saw onscreen, I almost walked out halfway through. Instead, my roommate and I forced ourselves to stay to the end, then went directly to a bar, determined to get the phone numbers of men we had no intention of calling or seeing again. The movie that birthed this night of maybe too much vodka, and definitely too much conversation with the shiny, self-obsessed son of a federal judge, was He’s Just Not That Into You.

The women of the 2009 ensemble comedy slip so easily into the obvious stereotypes that it’s hard to even have a laugh or enjoy Bradley Cooper’s arms. There’s the tightly wound wife (Jennifer Connelly), the busty man-stealer (Scarlett Johansson), the desperate dater (Ginnifer Goodwin), and the girlfriend who dumps the man she really loves because he won’t put a ring on it (Jennifer Aniston). Drew Barrymore, an Executive Producer on the film, also plays Mary, a bespectacled online dater who spends her offline life tragically surrounded by gay men.

Luckily, Barrymore’s character, Erin, in this summer’s Going the Distance, is a universe away from poor Mary. She’s a little older, a little wiser, and even a little clumsy, though not in a way that makes it seem like a cultivated quirk. Erin is the kind of girl who gets wing sauce on her face and doesn’t care. She swears without sounding vulgar. She even knows who Muddy Waters is. Basically, she’s the first leading lady on the adult (i.e. not starring Michael Cera) rom-com scene that you might actually want to hang out with.

So what exactly is it that makes Erin the antidote to the stereotypes that usually plague the romantic comedy? Is it too obvious to say…she’s complex? She’s passionate about becoming a journalist, but you couldn’t call her career-obsessed (see Sandra Bullock in The Proposal). She drinks beers and kicks ass at video games, but she isn’t an awkward quirk-fest or a tomboy in need of a makeover. Most importantly, she sleeps with Justin Long’s character, Garrett, the first night she meets him, but you definitely couldn’t call her a slut. Erin actually seems, dare I say it, pretty real.

Of course Garrett falls for Erin right away. Who wouldn’t? Especially after being dumped by a teary Leighton Meester because he took her statement “don’t buy me a birthday present” to mean that he actually shouldn’t buy her a birthday present. Jerk.
Enter Erin. After a night of hooking up to the ever-seductive soundtrack of Top Gun, it’s clear that they really like each other. But as with any good romance, there are obstacles. She’s going back to school across the country. He has a job scouting Jonas Brothers rip-off bands for a big record company. Still they decide to give it a go, and the rest of the film is spent trying to figure out if long distance is too hard, or if love really does conquer all.

The supporting cast helps balance out the romantic struggles with some comic relief. Jason Sudeikis of “Saturday Night Live” and Charlie Day of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” are both hilarious, though Day gives the standout performance-pulling off an open-door dump and a Hitler-stache in one movie is not easy. Refreshingly, the bro-trio in Distance is so naturally funny that the writers didn’t even need to rely on homophobia to get laughs, or at least not as blatantly as the Apatow crew.

Now, to be fair, Distance is not totally without stereotype. Christina Applegate and Jim Gaffigan, as Barrymore’s older sister and brother-in-law, have a typical, somewhat claustrophobic, suburban marriage. Applegate echoes the shrill Leslie Mann in Knocked Up, obsessively clean and barking orders at her husband whenever she gets the chance. Meanwhile, Gaffigan walks around with the usual exhausted-by-yet-resigned-to-my-marriage look. But somehow they manage to be less predictable and less irritating than their predecessors. Maybe they’re softened by their love of hardcore dry humping.

Barrymore and Long, together with their pack of lovable lunatics and a soundtrack that would be approved of by most lovesick hipsters, launch Going the Distance beyond the realm of the typical rom-com and into far more interesting territory.

And I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say it satisfies my feminist impulses and still manages to be romantic. It’s nice to finally see a love story, and a leading lady, with balls.

Christina Rumpf received her MFA in nonfiction from Columbia University.  She blogs at The Whoring Twenties. ...read more

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