"The Piano," A Great Movie Starring Women That Isn't A "Women's Movie"
On my podcast last week, I spoke about my belief that Lady Bird, while not a bad movie and a fairly good enough movie in itself, was nominated for Academy Awards as part of the then new #metoo women’s empowerment movement. The good: Lady Bird is a high quality film. The bad: it doesn’t stand out from the competition. Lady Bird is like any every other “good” film of its indie romcom genre feeling like Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen getting a PG-13 makeover, a very shocking nomination we could view like anything The Rock has made as a fun, “good” summer blockbuster getting nominated for every Oscar. What if his Jumanji sequel were nominated for directing and writing? Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is very standard of its action CGI blockbuster genre like Lady Bird could be any “good” movie you watch on Netflix from the festival circuit. What’s the difference? I argued, marketing meeting the right timing in Hollywood history.
“What then is a ‘good’ movie representing women’s roles worthy of its Academy Award acclaim?”
Why, you ask, The Piano, starring Anna Paquin in her award winning role, Holly Hunter in her own Oscar win, Harvey Keitel, and Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill. We haven’t seen this same “good movie” story hundreds of times with little originality by this point. The Piano dips us into an unknown world: a mute woman forced into marriage. Arriving into town with her daughter translating her intentions, Ada McGrath’s story could be male or female. Indeed, she is the cheater, a standard male film stereotype! Ada doesn’t speak in the film and says plenty in her actions and nonverbal demeanor. Flip it around to a man arriving sold into marriage with his son: nothing changes. When you can make a character male or female and each gender feels as vibrant, you don’t have a “women’s movie.” You have a great feminist film starring women that doesn’t depend on the “we are women!” storyline because it tells a story.
The Piano was released in 1993 and holds up today for its timeless storytelling.