Yesterday, I talked about John Hughes in relation to Iona, Andi’s mentor/boss in Pretty in Pink. But Hughes built his empire not on adults. He primarily wrote for and about teenagers. Some of those teenagers were female characters. Much of that audience was (and continues to be) teenage girls. But much of the focus goes toward teen queens like Claire Standish in The Breakfast Club and Sloane Peterson in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Weird girls like Allison Reynolds in The Breakfast Club get some recognition, as do Molly Ringwald’s girls next door: Andi Walsh in Pretty in Pink and Samantha Baker in Sixteen Candles, but both helped cultivate the actress’s status as 1980s’ Teen Queen.
In short, not a love is given to Watts, the female lead of 1987’s Some Kind of Wonderful. And that’s too bad, because I think she’s one of the most interesting female characters Hughes ever wrote. Named for drummer Charlie Watts, my favorite member of The Rolling Stones, Watts is herself a drummer and working-class misfit. She is also played with charm, grit, and tomboyish swagger by Mary Stuart Masterson. She’s also hopefully in love with her best friend, Keith Nelson (played by Eric Stoltz), who is himself crushing hard on popular rich-girl Amanda Jones. In short, it’s a gender-reverse Pretty in Pink, only with a happy ending for the folks who hoped Andi would get together with Ducky.
It’s also fairly gender-queer, with Stoltz playing Ringwald and Masterson playing Jon Cryer, but then taking Ducky’s effeminacy and butching it up. In addition, Watts’s look, demeanor, name, and passion for drumming all align with horror scholar Carol J. Clover’s model for the final girl. As she discusses at length in Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, the final girl is the lone survivor in many slasher movies and other titles associated with the subgenre. Like Laurie Strode in the Halloween series, Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Ellen Ripley in the Alien series, and Sidney Prescott in the Scream trilogy, there is a queerness to Watts that is somewhat androgynous and not conventionally feminine.
So, that might make it easy to bristle at Watts and Keith pairing up at the end of the movie (especially since Watts gets the guy while looking more conventionally feminine — fail). And I do think there’s a valid argument to make for how heterosexuality may contain and stabilize Watts and thus render her as less of a threat, one that was indeed rendered on Masterson’s turn as Idgie Threadgoode in the heteronormative film version of Fanny Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes.
Yet, I think this reading may limit female masculinity in Some Kind of Wonderful, as well as potentially play in some sort of homonormativity. Because while there needs to be room to in our culture for the butch lesbian gender warriors Judith Halberstam discusses in her seminal book, Female Masculinity, there also needs to be room for heterosexual female masculinity and masculine girlhood in all its orientations.
Also, I appreciate that Lea Thompson’s Amanda, who could easily be spoiled and mean, is kind and relateable. And despite Watts’s jealousy, we don’t see much bickering between them. In fact, Amanda, who learns that she is too reliant on male affection to inform her self-worth, does Watts a solid by cutting Keith loose to be with her. Thus, boys don’t have to turn girls into enemies.
So, while Watts doesn’t provide the perfect text, she gets us closer to who that girl might be both on screen and in the audience. We couldn’t get closer to it without Mary. Or John. He will be missed.
So, you may have seen yesterday’s Vulture post on the trailer for Jennifer’s Body, screenwriter Diablo Cody’s anticipated follow-up to Juno. If not, you can view it here.
1. I haven’t seen Megan Fox in anything. I’ve kind of avoided the Transformers franchise because, eh, well, let someone else do it. I’ll definitely see this, though. I wonder how this movie and this role will evolve Fox’s Jolie 2.0 bombshell persona. I’d be curious what my friend Annie has to say about it.
2. I do kinda wish Jennifer was being played by Kat Dennings (Norah from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist). I feel like Fox is ripping her off. That and I just want to see Dennings in more movies.
3. I like that the popular girl is a demon. Making the normatively feminine monstrous? Yes. “No, I’m killing boys” might be my favorite line in the trailer (the “Am I too big?” line is a close second). I see some potential feminist commentary.
4. Fox’s “I swing both ways” line to Amands Seyfried suggests one step forward, two steps back. I’d pair this with the shot of panty-clad Jennifer leering at Seyfried’s character and saying “we always share your bed when we have slumber parties.” Hello, boys. I’m sure having Jennifer play for both teams also builds up Fox’s star persona as a lipstick bisexual.
5. Why is Jennifer friends with the nerdy girl? Is it some kind of psychological “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” thing? We know that Veronica Sawyer couldn’t stay friends with Betty Finn to be one of the cool girls in Heathers. I’m intrigued.
6. It’s interesting to me that Cody’s is doing horror (albeit decidedly of the black comic variety). This suggests the influence of movies like Heathers and Scream on Cody as a screenwriter in ways more pronounced than Juno, which was cultivated and marketed as a prestige picture.
7. It’s a little annoying that the screenplay comes from “the mind of Diablo Cody.” Um. Karyn Kusmana directed it too. Plus I’m ambivalent about Cody’s writing style. Kids just aren’t that slick. And even with Daniel Waters’s super-heightened Heathers screenplay, a lot of the banter was slang-based. Or it was gross, which teenagers definitely are. I have an easier time believing a teenager would ask someone if they had a tumor for breakfast than telling a grubby-fingered peer to have a Chinese nail technician “buff your situation.” Plus, points off for reusing the fuck/Phuk Thailand joke.
7A. But the Buffy the Vampire Slayer dialogue didn’t bother me, in part because it seemed to be making a commentary on other network teen dramas like Dawson’s Creek. We shall see.
8. It seems that the soundtrack may play an important part for the movie’s burgeoning franchise. In the trailer, the soundtrack’s featured artists appear before the production credits and boasts hot acts like Little Boots and Panic at the Disco. Pair this with the prominent use of bad girl hits like The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” and The Waitresses’ “I Know What Boys Like” and you have a potential Billboard contender. This is important. Apart from the Disney machine, I can’t think of a teen movie with a soundtrack so at the fore of its marketing strategy since the mid- to late 90s (ex: She’s All That, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Cruel Intentions, Ten Things I Hate About You, and Clueless). I’ll be listening as well as watching.