Monday, August 01, 2011

Women in Film: Sliding Doors and Waitress

I actually wrote this post about two months ago, but I've had it saved as a draft and never got around to finishing it until now.

I had a movie night with my mom tonight, and we watched Sliding Doors and Waitress. My mom liked Sliding Doors better, whereas I love Waitress. It got me to thinking about why I like the movie Waitress so much, which I will explain in detail below. Pretty much everything beyond this point is a spoiler. I'm going to talk about the movies as if you've already seen them, just so you know.

I like Waitress because in the end, Jenna doesn't end up with the guy you want her to. You know, her married doctor with whom she has an affair. Instead she divorces her ape of a husband and creates the best life possible for herself and her new daughter. On her own. Also, Waitress is a great example of how quirk and whimsy can be blended with realism to make a great movie. It is so sad that this was Adrienne Shelley's last film, I would love to have been able to see all the fantastic films she would have written and directed. A lesser writer/director would have had Jenna run off with the doctor, but Shelley was smart enough to let Jenna be happy on her own. As a single woman I appreciate that. There are so few movies where the main character ends up without a man and it's a happy ending. More please!

So. Sliding Doors.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like the movie Sliding Doors. I like the whole alternate universe angle. However, I noticed watching tonight that the writing... is not good. It's been years since I watched it and I never noticed a lot of the problems in the script before.
A) Helen's boyfriend Jerry is an absolute loser, and not only can I not see why Helen is with him, I don't see how he managed to cheat on Helen with another woman. There are two women out there who want to date this guy?
B) Helen pretty much spends the entire movie letting others make her decisions for her. It's kind of pathetic. Helen gets fired from her PR job, but it never occurs to her to open her own PR firm until her new beau James suggests it.
C) The basic premise of the movie is that you watch this woman have the worst year ever. She gets fired, mugged, her boyfriend cheats on her, she finds out her new boyfriend is married, she works two shitty jobs while her bf cheats on her instead of writing his novel, she has a miscarriage, and she dies. Ok, those things happen in two alternate universes, so they don't really all happen to the same Helen, but still. But it's strongly suggested that she ends up with the right guy in the end so it's all okay!

I really like the basic premise of the movie, that you see how life would be different based on some seemingly insignificant detail (making the train vs. missing the train), but the script is just not very good. I'm not a scriptwriter, but there must have been a way to write the characters better, with some depth. Helen is actually pretty pathetic, and she's supposed to be the hero of the movie! I think this DVD may end up in next year's Garage Sale bin.

Ultimately, I think I like Waitress more than Sliding Doors because the women in Waitress are more fleshed-out characters. Maybe that has to do with the fact that Waitress was written by a woman, whereas Sliding Doors was written by a man. Not that men can't write women well, it's just that this man didn't. Adrienne Shelley managed to make all the characters in her film interesting, including the villain, Jenna's husband (played by Jeremy Sisto, whom I've always liked, so maybe I'm biased). None of Peter Howitt's characters are very interesting, it's the alternate-universe premise that holds the audience's interest.

Basically, I consider Waitress a good film with strong, interesting female characters, while Sliding Doors is a interesting premise, but a mediocre movie (with dull characters of all genders).