The age of the unlikeable woman in the movies has been upon us for awhile now. 2017 saw I, Tonya, about the acerbic Tonya Harding; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, featuring Oscar winner Frances McDormond as an angry, grieving mother; and Atomic Blonde, where Charlize Theron's super spy showed that being cruel could help you survive. Seeing those types of characters is a great thing, a reminder to audiences that all types of women exist, not just the nice ones. But it shouldn't just be adults with this label; movies that highlight "unlikeable" teenage girls are equally important in showing all sides of womanhood. Thankfully, several recent films like I Kill Giants and A Wrinkle in Time are doing just this, proving that young women don't need to buy into the sexism of the likability label any more than their adult counterparts.
In the indie film I Kill Giants, out now, teenage Barbara (Madison Wolfe) creates a fantasy world in which she lures, traps, and kills giants and titans threatening her oceanfront Long Island town in order to cope with her mother's cancer diagnosis and impending death. Barbara has few friends, her icy nature making it hard to connect. She snaps at her older sister, who spends most of her day trying to hold onto a job and care for her two younger siblings. The teen even gives her school therapist (played by Zoe Saldana) a difficult time just for asking a personal question. She isn't a bully, but when she is bullied, she responds with the same tactics. She rejects those interested in getting to know her, and responds to kindness with sass and sarcasm. In other words, she's not particularly nice.
Barbara's unlikable nature is clearly related to her grief, but that doesn't make her easier to root for. The Verge reports that even the film's director, Anders Walter said, "I was a little irritated by her in the beginning. I almost put the screenplay down after 50 pages." A similar reaction was levied at Meg Murray of A Wrinkle in Time earlier this year. Stubborn, steely, and unwelcoming, Meg (Storm Reid) is a difficult heroine to like. Like Barbara, her personality stems largely from a painful family issue; she builds up walls around her emotions and her life in order to cope with the fact that her father disappeared years earlier.
But the fact that Meg is unlikable at times isn't a bad thing. She's one of few Disney heroines whose anger and acerbic nature aren't watered down to be more palatable for audiences, and she should be celebrated for being so different. The whole purpose of her journey in Wrinkle is for her to be able to accept her faults, embracing her own inabilities and "negative" personality traits. A Wrinkle in Time, as well as I Kill Giants, understands that teen girls are complicated, and doesn't fault them for that.
And happily, it isn't just the fantasy genre that's doing this. Movies like Flower and Thoroughbreds feature young women who aren't just brusque and rude, they're downright devious. Flower's Erica (Zoey Deutch) schemes, blackmails, and engages in sex acts with men much older than she in order to entrap and exploit them. The two young women of Thoroughbreds, meanwhile, armed without empathy, plot to commit murder. The heroines of these films are more of a response to sexist expectations of young women than those in the two fantasy films. While Meg and Barbara are churlish as a result of their grief, Erica, Lily, and Amanda act out against patriarchal expectations of women. As Erica in Flower, "If a dude goes around eating a bunch of p*ssy, nobody gives a f*ck; nobody calls him a slut. It's called feminism." Proper behavior be damned, these girls aren't here to be nice.
And it's about time. When Hermione Grainger (Emma Watson) first poked her head through Harry Potter's train car all those years ago, her know-it-all nature made for a refreshing new kind of young woman on screen, one who didn't politely raise her hand in class but shot it up in assured defiance. For so long, Hermione stood out as an anomaly, with most other on-screen girls and young women being more conventionally likable and adjusting their personalities into more attractive ons. But now, with this wave of new films, the witch's unapologetic legacy lives on.
Seeing teen girls on screen who defy the niceties of being female couldn't be more important for audiences. Women are taught from an early age that we should be pleasing to other people, particularly men. We're supposed to smile, talk to strangers even if they make us uncomfortable, and be polite. Sometimes we do those things for safety's sake, and sometimes, often, it's because it's been ingrained in our psyche.
As such. being able to look up to women in the movies who don't adhere to those standards is paving a way for young female audiences to reject those outdated expectations. And now that there are more teen girls on screen who use unlikeability to their benefit, the message that you don't need to please everyone, or act nice, or be gentile, might just get through a bit earlier.