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.

……….

Surely every millennial has uttered the immortal lines, “I’m reaaady, to paaaaartaaaay” while three sheets to the wind at some point in their life (hopefully not disrupting a plane to Las Vegas though) and “hell no, H-2-O!” when it really would be the best option to stave off a hangover? 

It’s notoriously difficult to act drunk on screen but some women just do it so, so well. It can be played for laughs: three mums going on an alcohol-fuelled romp round a supermarket in Bad Moms; the start of an unlikely friendship when the mistress (Cameron Diaz) meets the wife (Leslie Mann) in The Other Woman; couples intertwine at a brewery (Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick) in Drinking Buddies; and a host of comedic legends (think the likes of Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch) stop time and climb walls when they’re old enough to know better at a wild ‘Ellis Island Party’ in Sisters. And then there’s the most iconic of champagne-drinking comedy queens: Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, as Edina and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. Clearly, a television show just wasn’t enough, darlings.

Often, however, drunk women in films aren’t there for light relief, but for something a lot more serious. Amy Schumer’s Amy may have a (spoiler alert) happy ending, but her drunken antics at the start of Trainweck serve as a warning sign that her life really isn’t heading in the right direction; the excessive drinking of protagonist Rachel (Emily Blunt) in The Girl on the Train calls her entire narrative into question; and Cassandra (Casey Mulligan) uses the guise of a stumbling, drunken single woman into duping the types of men who would sexually assault women in that condition in the blisteringly brilliant Promising Young Woman. Drinking ups the stakes between a bitter middle-aged couple (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; a woman drinks everywhere she can in Berlin in 1979’s Bildnis einer Trinkerin; Jane Fonda wakes up from a drunken blackout next to a murdered man in The Morning After; and Susan Hayward was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal as a singer-actress who battled with alcoholism in I’ll Cry Tomorrow. The 1971 television film Edna, the Inebriate Woman showcased Patricia Hayes as a chronic alcoholic, and was watched by 9 million people, winning Best Drama and Actress at the BAFTA TV Awards in 1972.

Our top five films for this month feature two ‘90s rom com legends battling with alcoholism; a couple coming to terms with their drinking problems; women going wild for wine in California; and the appearance of a giant kaiju after a drunken night (we’ve all been there). Without further ado…

28 Days

(2000, Dir.: Betty Thomas)

In 28 Days, New York based writer Gwen Cummings (Sandra Bullock) doesn’t think her excessive drinking is a problem until she ruins her sister’s wedding and ends up in a drug and alcohol rehab centre. It’s a classic noughties film, and while it was criticised for oversimplifying addiction, it’s still a fun comedy-drama.

28 Days is available to stream on Netflix

Colossal

(2016, Dir.: Nacho Vigalondo)

The criminally underrated Colossal sees Gloria (Anne Hathaway) forced to leave New York City as her partying lifestyle becomes too much for her boyfriend. Back in her hometown, she continues drinking, while reports emerge that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, South Korea. These events sound unrelated, but Gloria must come to terms with her connection to the monster half-way across the world. It’s a genre-defying film that is endlessly entertaining and original, and well worth a watch.

Colossal is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Apple TV+, and YouTube.

Smashed

(2012, Dir.: James Ponsoldt)

The relationship between married couple Kate and Charlie Hannah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul) is tested when Kate decides to get sober. Recovery proves to be a challenge in the face of a deteriorating marriage no longer propped up by alcohol. The film was praised for its intimacy, and Winstead’s performance, in particular, was often singled out by critics for the sincerity of her depiction of an addict at rock-bottom.

Smashed is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Apple TV+, and YouTube.

Wine Country

(2019, Dir.: Amy Poehler)

A group of long-time friends venture to Napa Valley to celebrate Rebecca’s (Rachel Dratch) 50th birthday. This is Amy Poehler’s directorial debut, and she recruits frequent collaborators to round out the cast, from Tina Fey to Ana Gasteyer, Maya Rudolph, Paula Pell, Emily Spivey and Cherry Jones – it’s essentially a ‘who’s who’ of classic SNL. Inspired by a trip the women actually took to celebrate a 50th birthday, the film is a joyous exploration of female friendship, glass of wine in hand.

Wine Country is available to stream on Netflix

When a Man Loves a Woman

(1994, Dir.: Luis Mandoki)

The picture-perfect relationship between Alice and Michael Green (Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia) is tested as Alice battles with alcoholism. Mae Whitman and Tina Majorino make their movie debuts as the Green’s daughters. Ryan was nominated for a Screen Actor’s Guild Award for her performance, and in interviews years later admitted that she was drunk for many of her scenes.

When a Man Loves a Woman is available to stream on Disney+, or to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Google Play, YouTube, 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.

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