Cover Story: Where Are the Girls of Summer?

High-profile, meaty female roles are few and far between

May 2, 2007 at 2:06 pm
IFC Films

Christina Ricci in Penelope

We've been told quite often that behind every great man there's a woman. This summer it seems that even if the men aren't all that great, there are still women hanging around the fringes.

The feisty, beknighted Keira Knightley swashes a mean buckle — even more than her intended beau, Orlando Bloom — in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Fiona and the fairytale princesses band together to bust heads while Shrek, his ass and his puss go on walkabout in search of Far Far Away's next Camelot Idol.

In the latest Fantastic Four installment, Ms. Invisible catches the eye of the Silver Surfer and forces Mr. Fantastic to try to prove just how, well, fantastic not only he is but also the planet, which is on the intergalactic menu of a rather hungry solar system devourer. In Spiderman 3, Mary Jane remains the same, waiting for her web-slinger to clear out the cobwebs in his head and become her man the way she's always been his girl. And so on down the summer line.

But what about the girls who aren't waiting in the wings? What about the ladies starring in their own adventures?

There's a new Nancy Drew.

The character makes a triumphant return from the late 1930s when Bonita Granville brought her to life minus The Hardy Boys. Back then she was accompanied on a series of adventures by Ted Nickerson (Frankie Thomas), her male sidekick.

Emma Roberts plays the new-and-improved Ms. Drew, and someone is likely deducing that Roberts might have the star appeal of her acting aunt, Julia, because there's a tentative green light for a sequel that could hit screens by 2009. What will this updated teen sleuth look like in the age of rehab-ready pop queens and DNA forensic specialists? And will there be a tech-savvy hottie in her future?

On the indie scene, Christina Ricci gets reacquainted with the modern fable in Penelope, the story of a girl with a pig's snout who leaves her family's cursed home in order to make her way in the world. There's the search for a prince and happily ever after, but Penelope focuses on the psychological journey rather than the ending.

Following along those lines the late Adrienne Shelley's last film (and her debut as a feature director), Waitress tracks the much-maligned life of a small-town waitress (Kerry Russell) who marries young and for the wrong reasons but then must find ways to change her own situation, which she does in hit-or-miss fashion through baking.

There's more promise in this confectionary treat than in No Reservations, the Hollywood remake of the French film Most Martha. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart headline this glossy translation of a chef's devolution into parenthood once she's forced to assume responsibility for her tragically deceased sister's daughter. Weep for this soft soufflé.

Garry Marshall's Georgia Rule gives us a cross-generational girls night out with Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman and Lindsay Lohan struggling to out-quirk each other while living under one roof for a summer of warm Lifetime-lite (talk about redundancy) redemptive moments. Somewhere in the mix, everybody gets the chance to bat their eyes at someone of the opposite sex. Marshall might claim to know a thing or two about what women want, at least in terms of their film heroines, and here he looks ready to offer some feisty family fare for all ages. Thanks, Garry.

What girl won't be waiting in line for Bratz, the movie based on the television series based on the best-selling line of dolls with a passion for fashion? Bratz are the Lindsay Lohans and the Britney Spears of the doll world, possibly pre-pop meltdown, who make Barbie look like the old granny that she is. But these girly-girls don't seem to have any need for a plastic male equivalent to make them happy.

The season ends with Scarlett Johansson in The Nanny Diaries as a young college student who becomes a nanny for a rich New York couple (Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney) to support herself. She also pitches a little woo with Chris Evans (The Fantastic Four's Human Torch).

The movie is adapted from the novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the team behind American Splendor. There's faint hope that a more offbeat sensibility might emerge from this pairing, but the odds aren't in the film's favor, since it has been pushed around the release schedule and looks like this year's knockoff of The Devil Wears Prada.

For the truly serious-minded, there's always the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose about the iconic French singer with the raw, emotional voice and the less-than-Catholic lifestyle. Olivier Dahan's film has already generated Oscar buzz for lead Marion Cotillard, but this isn't a warm summer breeze. So girls beware: Someday your season will come. Until then, you'll just have to keep waiting. ©