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Femme Fatigue #2

Eithne Shortall is chief arts writer for Sunday Times Ireland. If you missed them, take a look at the Femme Fatigue Archives for more on her methodology and archive of monthly round-ups of female representations on screen for

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To pass the Bechdel Test: A film must feature two named female characters having a conversation (even a brief exchange) about something other than a man and without a man being present.

Films seen at the cinema in the past month: 8

Those that passed the Bechdel Test: 4


The film that attracted the most feminist debate in the past month was one I didn’t see: The Other Woman. A movie with three central actresses – Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton – it achieved the astounding feat of failing the Bechdel test. At no point during the near two-hour film do any of the women – who are all romantically involved with the same man – manage to discuss anything other than their shared love interest or other potential suitors. It’s a particularly depressing outcome given what a badge-wearing feminist and overall laugh Cameron Diaz has proven herself to be. If you missed her telling Graham Norton about how a full bush in the bath resembles seaweed, may I direct you this way…

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Yet even without having seen The Other Woman, I can be sure that it was not the most offensive – or worst – release of the month. That title goes to Plastic, an English heist movie that relocates to California halfway through the plot seemingly for the sole reason of putting the lead (and only) actress in scantier clothing. Those transatlantic flights obviously ate into the costume budget as poor Emma Rigby (of Hollyoaks fame, apparently) only got a quarter of the bikini that her sizable bosom required. While the film’s title is indicative of the general character development, Emma’s part is particularly vacuous.

Yet as months go, this was one of the better ones. While Plastic sent my heart sinking onto the dark, chewing gum-ridden floor of Cineworld, Tracks pulled it right back up. Based on a true story, the film stars Mia Wasikowska as an Australian woman who decides to cross the desert alone. Despite the dearth of characters that the premise dictates, it still managed to pass the Bechdel test. More heartening than that, was its display of body hair (the second mention in this column, I know. It also featured in my Sunday Times coverage recently). After months in the desert, of course the heroine would have hair under her arms and on her legs, yet to see it on film was still a surprise.

I still remember Natalie Portman’s character in V For Vendetta being freed from a stint in a torturous interrogation camp and raising her arms in victory. The notable lack of hair ruined the allusion. This was a Hollywood actress not an ardent activist. Similar points can be made about cave women on film – see The Croods as a recent example – and other prison scenarios. It seems to be the one detail that continuity supervisors fail to track.