Greta Gerwig won the world's heart just a few years back with Frances Ha, exemplifying all the joys, woes, dreams, and bad decisions that come along with 20-something life in the big city. While Mistress America — her reunion with writing partner, director, and offscreen beau Noah Baumbach — isn't quite as soft a touch, it's perhaps an even more complex effort for the blooming actress, who is charged this time around with playing a character we're almost challenged to root for. Gerwig's flighty Brooke Cardinas is a character who attracts and repels simultaneously. Alongside her likewise complicated stepsister-to-be Tracy, Brooke represents a type of role that we've grown especially attached to these past years: the antihero. Even better, Brooke represents an amazing female antihero in a character trope that is, otherwise, largely a boys' club.
This generation celebrates the antihero as its favorite class of character, one who we can't help but adore despite his or her bevy of foul deeds or intentions. The majority of occupants of this class are men: Tony Soprano, Don Draper, and Walter White reign supreme above the lot. But there have been plenty of great female antiheroes to spring from the big screen these past five years. Here are a few memorable mentions to accompany Mistress America's highly misguided antiheroic duo, Brooke and Tracy.
From: Young Adult
Played by: Charlize Theron
Principal vices: Holding fast to the high school psychology that afforded her the best years of her life and the people around her the worst of theirs. Trying to break up a happy marriage. Treating everyone around her like garbage.
Redeeming factors: She does, at least, apologize to her dog.
Played by: Saoirse Ronan
Principal vices: Killing everyone and anyone who stands in her or her father's way to complete liberation.
Redeeming factors: You can't really blame her; she was raised from the get-go to be an assassin.
From: Gone Girl
Played by: Rosamund Pike
Principal vices: Faking her own death in an attempt to frame her somewhat irritating, but otherwise harmless, husband for murder.
Redeeming factors: She knows her way around a witty rejoinder.
From: Black Swan
Played by: Natalie Portman
Principal vices: Letting her obsession with artistic perfection overtake every other value she once held dear. Plus, she did kill Mila Kunis...
Redeeming factors: ...granted, Mila Kunis might not have actually existed.
From: Blue Jasmine
Played by: Cate Blanchett
Principal vices: A potent narcissism that she willingly allows to eviscerate even (especially) those who have been kindest to her.
Redeeming factors: A tragic comeuppance that indeed makes you feel bad for her, even after everything she's done.
Played by: Mia Wasikowska
Principal vices: A troubling fancy of violence and murder.
Redeeming factors: Most of the blame lies with her mother and uncle. Plus, in a film this remarkably beautiful, it's tough not to fancy some of the dark stuff yourself.
From: Under the Skin
Played by: Scarlett Johansson
Principal vices: Luring strange men to their deaths in order to maintain a polished epidermis.
Redeeming factors: She's not without the ability to empathize, going so far as to put one young man's life above her own... much to the chagrin of her motorcycling superior.
C.I.A. Agent Maya
From: Zero Dark Thirty
Played by: Jessica Chastain
Principal vices: Maya's designation as an "antihero" is quite easily the most controversial on this list, and is consequent primarily of her involvement with military torture. Following the release of Zero Dark Thirty, conversations abounded over whether or not the movie was endorsing torture as a means to a greater end.
But if you appreciate the espousal of empathy for the tortured parties, affiliates of terrorist organizations, you can understand that Zero Dark Thirty and director Kathryn Bigelow are indeed treating the issue with the grim, sullen remorse that it, even as a successful measure toward a necessary goal, deserves. As such, you couldn't really classify Maya, who is directly involved with the process, as anything but an antihero.
Redeeming factors: She's the motherf*cker who found Osama bin Laden's place... sir.
Of course, the designation of "antihero" continues to by and large belong to the male characters we love to love and love to hate. However, thankfully, more and more female antiheroes are being added to the mix as people continue to respond well to characters with morals more complexly grey than the staunchly black or staunchly white morals of those that came before them. And that's a victory in and of itself.
Images: Fox Searchlight Pictures (3); Paramount Pictures; Focus Features; 20th Century Fox; Columbia Pictures; Sony Pictures Classics; A24