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maryann johanson | #BlackLivesMatter

‘Mad Money’ and women on film

So I wrote the other day about why there are so few women at the multiplex this summer — a riff on a similar complaint by The New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis — but then along this week comes Mad Money on DVD, which had its theatrical release just this past January. It’s not summer-blockbuster stuff, but as I wrote back in January, it’s a fun, diverting movie about how invisible women are. Which suddenly seems more pertinent than ever.
Notable, too, is the fact that Mad Money was directed by a woman, Callie Khouri, who also had a significant hand in writing the script (as she explains in her director’s commentary), though the final credit went solely to Glenn Gers. Another tidbit in her commentary track highlights something that’s really unusual about this film:

Part of the thing that I loved about this movie is that it’s three women that when you see them together you realize, Jesus, these people have nothing in common — why are they together? It doesn’t look right, and yet they have to form this cohesive bond that allows them to pull this thing off. I think the actors were like that — each one different and yet they found a common ground, and they found a way of working with each other that was really bringing out the best in each one of them.

Even when women do appear in the summer blockbusters, there’s typically only one of them. Men fill all sorts of different dramatic niches in meaty roles in, oh, Iron Man, for instance, but poor Pepper is all on her own as a major character. And that’s often how it is: a gang of characters features, say, the Hero, the Nerd, the Clown, the Villain, the Foil, the Wise Leader… and the Girl, as if a single female were all that were necessary to cover the full spectrum of femaleness. Imagine a gang of wildly different women — one smart and confident, one brainy and nerdy, one shy and clumsy, one funny and snarky, one wise and noble… and one solitary Guy — that’s what defines him, his maleness and that alone — along for the ride. It sounds absurd. But in Mad Money, we get Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes as three very diverse women each of whom would normally be lucky enough to be on her own in a film. And here, they’re all together. Amazing.

I like, too, how Khouri talks about her approach to making this movie:

I love crime movies, but I’m kinda worn out on violence. There’s just so much violence in the world at the moment, and there’s just so much violence in the movies, and it’s just not my thing. Certainly in some movies it’s great, but in other movies it’s gratutitous, and it’s numbing… I thought it would nice to have all the stakes of a crime movie without all the physical violence…

I find it a personal challenge to tell a story that doesn’t have a gun in it, because I think that’s kind of easy. When you have a gun that can turn the action, it’s kind of a cheat, but it’s also the most overused thing in a film, ever. People never seem to get tired of watching them shoot each other, but I am personally tired of it.

That may not be an exclusively female approach to telling this kind of story — in fact, I’m sure there are male filmmakers who would echo Khouri — but you’d hardly know it from the fare at the multiplex.

And one more thing, entirely unrelated, except it’s something that I wondered about the film:

We didn’t show one real thing that happens at the Federal Reserve Bank. If we had attempted to do that, I don’t think anybody would have cooperated. As it was, we had a lot of technical advice from the Fed, and they were tickled at the notion of somebody attempting a crime like this, I think only because they knew it was absolutely impossible.

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