While rewatching American Beauty recently, I realized I’d been lied to my entire life. In the 1999 Best Picture, the film’s creepo dad protagonist Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) quits his job and charges boldly into a midlife crisis. After blackmailing his boss, he buys himself a Pontiac Firebird, and proceeds to try to sleep with his daughter’s 16-year-old best friend Angela (Mena Suvari).
When I was Angela’s age, I fully bought into this narrative. I had the soundtrack and even cheered Lester on as he escaped the imprisonment of...well, just being an adult, I guess. Nowhere in my heart did I reserve empathy for Annette Bening’s character, Carolyn, Lester’s so-called nagging wife who chastises him for jerking off while she’s trying to sleep, and kills the mood out of fear that he’ll spill beer on her Italian silk couch.
Well, bish, it’s 2018, and it turns out, Carolyn was fucking right. Lester was sold to us as a hero, but in reality, he was a selfish, unreliable skeeze, and Carolyn’s couch deserved better. It was Italian silk! And while she wasn’t blameless, at least the guy she cheated with was a full grown adult man. Whenever I rewatch one of my favorite movies, I’m struck by how, in the midst of a culture-shifting moment, so many of the girls and women characters we were asked to accept as “lame bitches” were right all along. Here are a few more.
In Cameron Crowe’s classic romcom drama, Kelly Preston plays Tom Cruise’s fiancée, Avery Bishop, the woman he dumps after having a nervous breakdown and writing a mission statement he hopes will change the sports agent industry, but which ultimately just gets him fired by Jay Mohr.
Back then, it was pretty cut and dry. We hated Avery, because she was hot, and she fucks on top, and she doesn’t put Jerry first when he blows up his career and potentially hers, too. And we instinctually loved Dorothy (Renée Zellweger), the Madonna to Avery’s whore. Although Dorothy is just as much of a smoke show as Avery, it’s harder to notice—she’s too busy bringing her precocious, severely allergic kid with her on work trips. She’s a single mom who quits her job to follow a dude she barely knows, who can’t guarantee her a salary, let alone health insurance.
In 2018? Get outta town, friends! Avery is the real hero of this movie, despite disappearing after the first act. Examine the facts: She’s an NFL publicist who worked a lot harder than Jerry for her career (women in sports!), and she’s been honest with him about who she is—shrewd, tough, not into babies—from the start. So while I adore Jerry Maguire (it completes me), 22 years later, I’m ready for Cameron Crowe to write a movie about Avery, maybe without the physical violence.
Man, does Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) get a raw deal in this comedy. Like her character in the graphic novels that inspired Edgar Wright’s film, she’s 17 and her 22-year-old musician boyfriend Scott (Michael Cera) has absolutely all the power in their relationship, which he, naturally, abuses. Scott treats Knives like a lame hanger-on, but all she does is support him and go to his rock shows, which, if you’ve dated a musician, you know is the most boring thing a girlfriend could possibly have to do.
Scott then cheats on her and dumps her for Ramona, a character who, as best I can tell, gets her whole personality from a box of Manic Panic.
Instead of ruining his life, Knives goes on to join forces with Scott, helping him defeat Ramona’s final ex-boyfriend, only to watch Scott and Ramona walk off together into the snowy Canadian sunset. The only reward Knives gets is the comfort and knowledge of being a good person, which we all know is the worst reward of all.
Twister is my husband’s favorite movie. So much so that, if this movie is anywhere on cable, trust that he will find it and he will watch Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt chase tornadoes, intercut with hours of commercials, despite the fact that we own the DVD. I will also watch it with him, even though the only character I identify with is Jami Gertz’s Dr. Melissa Reeves.
Melissa accompanies her boyfriend Bill (Fun Fact: Bill Paxton played characters named Bill five times!) on this trip to get his divorce papers signed by his first wife (Helen Hunt), and before long, we learn (or presume) that Melissa is a total lame-ass priss because she doesn’t want to drive into a tornado. Throughout the movie, Dr. Reeves, an accomplished psychiatrist, watches as actual crazy people propel themselves into cyclones. The movie is designed to make us hate her—because she’s not a ride-or-die chick—but if I were in the backseat and saw a cow fly past the windshield, I would personally shit all over that truck.
The movie cleanly dispenses with Melissa by letting her be the one to dump Bill. Is it because he repeatedly ignored her, nearly killed her by dragging her into a twister, and lied to her about no longer having feelings for his first wife? No. It’s because she cannot compete with how much he likes tornados. If he would rather hang out with the weather than with you, he’s the lame one.
In this classic film, children are punished (and possibly murdered!) for committing several of the deadly sins: gluttony, greed, envy, slothfulness. Then there’s Violet Beauregarde. Violet’s only crime is being a kid who chewed gum. Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) sadistically dangles a piece of gum over her head, tells her it’s the most “amazing, fabulous, sensational gum in the whole world,” and then turns her into a blueberry just for chewing it. That’s fucked up. If you put kids into a room where the gum is dangerous enough to kill them, that’s on you.
And the whole lesson the Oompa Loompas impart here is: “Gum chewing’s fine when it’s once in awhile,” but too much is rude. What kind of wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed lesson is that? While Violet is off somewhere getting juiced, Charlie, who we can all agree is a cuck, inherits the factory.
To wrap this up, every woman in a Woody Allen movie who didn’t want to date him was right as hell, and I’d make a list of them, but then I’d have to watch all those movies again, and I’ve got more important things to do like dusting my Himalayan salt lamp and reorganizing my nail polishes in color order of the spectrum. Instead, I’ll let the Jezebel sum it up with the supercut above.