This week it was announced that Community and Mad Men star Alison Brie has been cast in Get Hard (behave yourselves), an upcoming Will Ferrell comedy about a white-collar criminal who has to toughen up, or ‘get hard’ to use parlance no one would ever actually use, before he goes to prison. Brie will be playing Ferrell’s fiancé, a casting choice that would be improbable if it wasn’t so typical of American mainstream comedy. The 15 year age-gap between the two is one thing, Ferrell hit the full 20 when paired with then 24 year old Genesis Rodriguez in Casa de mi Padre. Note that both films came from Ferrell’s production company. It seems a waste of Brie’s comedic talents for her to be reduced to what will probably amount to 15 minutes of screen time sighing with exasperation at Ferrell’s wacky antics and unfortunately for big-budget American comedies it’s very hard for women to break out of that. The suddenly pervasive African-American comedian Kevin Hart will also star in the film as a former convict, so you’re getting two glass ceilings for the price of one.
In the Adam McKay/Judd Apatow/Adam Sandler axis of American comedy women are rarely given the screen time or material to be memorable as amusing characters, instead being typically relegated to being the hot chick to spice up a trailer, the redundant love interest to lend poorly-plotted films a semblance of a story, or both. If one were to by really cynical they could say that their third use is to stroke the ego of the leading men, the Ferrell love interest hit list includes Eva Mendes, Zooey Deschanel and Christina Applegate, Adam Sandler's boasts Salma Hayek, Kate Beckinsale, Winona Ryder...actually we'd be here all day if I covered all of them and if I even started with Kevin James I might have an embolism. There are occasional exceptions to women being poorly utilised in these films but generally no matter the calibre of actress they're not there for the laughs. It's a situation that is at odds with the people actually going to watch these films.
When 65% of cinema-goers are women but only 30.8% of the speaking characters they go to see are the same gender, there’s an inbalance that needs to be addressed and that applies to comedy just as much as any genre. Comedy after all is all about the unexpected, and what’s unexpected about going to the cinema to see the same 9 white dudes dicking around over and over and over again? There are a range of experiences and situations with the potential to be mined for humour that are being passed over and that's because of the long standing problem of catering to the white male aged 18-49 above all other demographics, no matter how dumb our suggestions are.
The two most obvious examples of mainstream comedies anchored by women are Bridesmaids and The Heat. These movies, both directed by Paul Feig, were responded to positively by critics and combined made $518,314,294 at the box office. To compare to the most recent output of the aforementioned axis, Bridesmaids made more money than Anchorman 2, Grown Ups 2 or This is the End (admittedly two of those are sequels). Yet Feig still says producers keep asking him to do a “guy comedy” for a change, assuming that this is what audiences want. When you look at those big dollar signs it seems like making things more even-stevens would give talented people better work, keep the execs swimming in caviar (or whatever it is people who don’t live with their parents do) and make the majority of people going to the movies feel more represented and catered for, all while movies where Seth Rogen and James Franco suck each other off keep getting made. Everybody would win, which is why I can’t help be a little bugged when I see someone cast as the long-suffering fiancé yet again. And if I’m bugged I can’t imagine how actual women must feel. Although that’s hardly unusual. It should be noted that I'm not suggesting that we set pitchforks on fire and go after the men I've mentioned here. These issues go back further than them and besides, Apatow is the one who produced Bridesmaids and even as he writes scenes where he makes out with the hot chick from Community, Ferrell himself has started up a women-focused production company. I'm glad to see this trend slowly changing, but encouraging that and keeping the discussion going is a big part of that.