Herstory on Film

Each month, the Herstory Club curates a selection of films that complement our monthly theme. This collection will be female-focused – both in front of the camera and ideally behind too – and range from fiction to biopics of real women in history. The films we’ll be recommending aim to both entertain and educate, showcasing cult classics, new hits, and movies you may never have heard of.

……….

Is there any better way to round off a month of delicious festive indulgence than by diving into films about women and food? Even when the films aren’t exclusively exploring women and the culinary arts, many movies have unforgettable gastronomical scenes. Be it Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) practising eating plain spaghetti with her friends exclaiming “splash” every time it fell off the fork in Brooklyn; Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) stuffing her face with a burger while lamenting the stereotype of the ‘cool girl’ in Gone Girl; or Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) in Eat Pray Love both finding herself and having a relationship with her pizza.

The matriarchs of the Singaporean Young family lovingly pass on tradition from one generation to the next by preparing potsticker dumplings as a family in Crazy Rich Asians; new housekeeper Chung Sook (Jang Hye-Jin) has eight minutes to frantically prepare Ram-Don and cover her fraudulent family’s tracks in Parasite; and Bend it Like Beckham sees budding footballer Jess (Parminder Nagra) make aloo gobi to please her mother while playing in secret.

And finally, food provides the perfect insight into Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) in When Harry Met Sally. Her penchant for specifying exactly how she’d like a dish served, (apple pie à la Mode has never encountered so many instructions), immediately alerts the audience to her quirks. As with all these scenes, it’s impossible to watch them without wanting to have what they’re having. 

Hollywood loves a female chef or restaurateur. From Catherine Zeta-Jones in rom-com No Reservations and Martina Gedeck in Mostly Martha, to Helen Mirren as the owner of a Michelin-starred eatery in The Hundred-Foot Journey; the formidable French chef Colette (Janeane Garofalo) in Ratatouille; and Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), the waitress-turned-princess-turned-restaurateur in The Princess and the Frog. Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter open a chocolate shop in the iconic Chocolat, and Sarah Michelle Geller works with a magical crab (yes, really) to improve her culinary skills in the questionable Simply Irresistible. Food also forms the backdrop for character development. Three teenage girls come of age in a pizza parlour in Mystic Pizza, and four families of different ethnicities gather together to prepare Thanksgiving dinner in Gurinder Chadha’s What’s Cooking?.

Our top five films for this month feature a Netflix rom-com, a biopic, a beloved film-turned musical and two films not in the English language that revolve around elaborate meals. Without further ado…

Always Be My Maybe

(2019, Dir.: Nahnatchka Khan)

Celebrity chef Sasha (Ali Wong) returns to her hometown of San Francisco to open a new restaurant and reconnects with her childhood best friend Marcus (Randall Park). Despite falling out 15 years previously, the pair find that sparks fly, and that maybe there’s something there. This sweet rom-com deliberately inverts one of the major tropes of the genre by not including a female makeover scene, and instead Wong was insistent when writing the script that her character wore glasses throughout. It also features one of the best Keanu Reeves cameos of all time, and is worth watching for those scenes alone.

Always Be My Maybe is available to stream on Netflix.

Babette’s Feast

(1987, Dir.: Gabriel Axel)

This Oscar-winning film tells the story of a 19th-century French refugee Babette Hersant (Stéphane Audran) who becomes the servant of a late pastor’s daughters in a strict religious community in a remote Danish village. After winning the lottery, Babette offers to cook a meal for the daughters and their friends on the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth. Believed to be Pope Francis’ favourite film, Babette’s Feast was the first Danish movie to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The novella on which the film is based was written by Karen Blixen-Finecke, who is best remembered now as being played by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa.

Babette’s Feast is available to stream on BFI Player, and to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Apple TV+, and YouTube.

Eat Drink Man Woman

(1994, Dir.: Ang Lee)

Semi-retired acclaimed chef Mr Chu (Sihung Lung) cooks and tends to his three grown daughters, and together they prepare an elaborate dinner every Sunday – which provides the opportunity for them to delve into their turmoil and challenges. The opening sequence, which details the preparation of the Sunday meal, took over a week to film. In 2001, Maria Ripoll directed Tortilla Soup, a remake that moved the story from Taiwan to a Mexican-American family in California.

Eat Drink Man Woman is available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema.

Waitress

(2007, Dir.: Adrienne Shelly)

Jenna (Keri Russell) is a pie-baking whizz and waitress at a small-town diner in the deep south. She unexpectedly finds herself pregnant, throwing her plans to leave her abusive husband into disarray, but her head – and heart – are turned by the new doctor (Nathan Fillion) in town. Waitress was the last film for writer/director Adrienne Shelly, as she was tragically murdered shortly after the film wrapped. In 2015 a stage musical version of the film opened at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with music and lyrics written by Sara Bareilles. The musical transferred to Broadway the following year and has an enthusiastic fanbase.

Waitress is available to stream on Disney+, or to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Google Play and Sky Store.

Julie & Julia

(2009, Dir.: Nora Ephron)

Julie & Julia delightfully intertwines the two true stories of Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) beginnings in the cooking profession in France, and Julie Powell’s (Amy Adams) 2002 challenge to blog and cook all 524 recipes in Child’s first book, The Art of French Cooking. From beef Bourguignon to sole meunière, the cooking in the film is sublime, and through it Ephron shows two women using passion, and an obscene amount of butter, to overcome their struggles. Bon appetit! 

Julie & Julia is available rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Google Play, and Sky Store.


About the Author: Emma Forth

Contact:

I’m a first year History PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. My research combines my passions for the First World War and film by exploring the development of early cinema, 1909-1918, across all four nations of the United Kingdom. For the last six months I have been producing the first database and maps of British and Irish cinemas in 1914, showcasing the position of cinema at the outbreak of the Great War. In a four-year hiatus from education prior to postgraduate study in 2018 I worked as a risk analyst; ran the admissions department in a high school; and was a receptionist and volunteer at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden. I am an avid reader, theatregoer, and cross-stitcher, and when not frantically Marie Kondo-ing my possessions and renovating my flat and during a pandemic, I can be found watching superhero films and dreaming of museums.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s