Why Teen-Led Movies Need To Try Harder

There are some movies simply impossible not to like, and A Royal Night Out , a new dramedy from director Julian Jarrold, is one of them. Starring Belle's Sarah Gadon and Diary of a Teenage Girl breakout Bel Powley as teenage versions of sisters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, respectively, the British film is as sweet as it gets, a lovely re-imagining of the girls' night joining the VE Day celebrations in 1945 London. Don't dismiss it as just a silly tale about palaces and tiaras, though — A Royal Night Out is actually a totally feminist movie, thanks in large part to its focus on its adolescent heroines.

"I love that people are making films that aren’t traditional looks at teenage girls," says the 28-year-old Gadon, sitting down with Bustle on a recent afternoon. "Angst isn’t necessarily what defines her [Elizabeth] in this coming-of-age story, and I found that really refreshing."

Indeed, A Royal Night Out (out Dec. 4) is far from your typical teen film. Its protagonists are royalty, for one; for another, their idea of a "wild night out" is well, any that allows them to exit the doors of Buckingham Palace. Yes, there are parties, and romance, and too-strict parents (although in this case, it's for good reason), but the movie's central themes are far from teen-girl cliches. While too many movies and TV shows still place young women in just two categories — moody and moping, or bubbly and boy-obsessed — Jarrold lets his teen heroines be actual human beings. Elizabeth struggles with balancing rigid royal responsibilities with embracing her own sense of self; Margaret narrowly avoids catastrophe when she embarks on a night filled with gambling, brothels, and drugged drinks. The movie may have a saccharine feel, but at its heart, it explores issues far deeper than the average film in its genre.

Gadon says she was drawn to its theme of female empowerment, as well as the realistic sisterly bond between Elizabeth and Margaret (in real life, Gadon says she and Powley are practically sisters themselves, affectionately calling the Diary star her "little nugget"). What resonated with her the most, however, was the movie's depiction of a young woman figuring out her future; Gadon, who's worked since age 10 as both an actress and a model, can clearly relate to that aspect. Earlier this year, the star helmed an episode of the Canadian documentary show Reelside, her directorial debut; she says that while her acting commitments keep her too busy now to pursue filmmaking further, she's eager to explore it down the road.

"Now, women are not just actresses — they’re writers, they’re producers, they’re everything in the industry," says Gadon. "We’re seeing that perspective open up a lot more."

The actress credits stars like Cate Blanchett and Agnès Varda with inspiring her and other women to "do their own thing outside of whatever is the mainstream," rather than simply following the industry's status quo. Artists like them — alongside Powley, Lena Dunham, and others — have led the charge for the younger generation, Gadon says, to create their own paths and follow no one's dreams but their own. From the way she talks about her current projects, it's easy to see how these women have influenced her; Gadon is as enchanted with the "classic romance" of A Royal Night Out as she is excited about the Stephen King adaptation she's working on for Hulu. She says she picks projects she believes in, regardless of the genre, time period, or anything else. With Royal, for instance, it was the chance to make a movie that had "the feeling of Roman Holiday;" with the upcoming 11/22/63 , it was the chance to work with J.J. Abrams, and bring the hugely popular book to life.

"I feel like J.J. does classic Americana cinema, all of his stuff rests so cleanly in that place," Gadon says, "And 11/22/63 is a man who goes back in time to stop JFK's assassination — so it’s like as American as it gets."

In the nine-part limited series, premiering in 2016, Gadon plays Sadie Dunhill, a librarian escaping an abusive relationship who romances Jake (James Franco), a man who travels back in time to 1958. The actress describes the characters' relationship as a "sweeping, fall in love, weak-in-the-knees romance," and her enthusiasm for the series is contagious. Whether she's completing English royal duties or stacking books in '58 Americana, there's no doubt that Gadon is making a name for herself as an actress willing and eager to take on the projects that matter to her — and to audiences — the most. And in doing so, she's putting a spotlight on the stories of young women, those with lives far more complex than just "lovestruck teen" or "dutiful librarian."

She's reminding studios, and audiences, that teen girls deserve to have their stories told the right way and, as her recent projects show, that it's entirely possible to make that happen.

Images: Lionsgate Films (3)