How about this for a fist in the air, celebrating our independence: mentor movies without the men? Or at least with a leading woman? Do they exist?
There are few things I love more than a good mentor movie. They’re right up there with crisp fries, Rosemary Clooney, and Infusium Leave-In Conditioner. Comedy or drama, either will do, so long as lives change–both that of the mentor and of his student. Yes, his. Because it’s always a his. What’s the last good female flick involving a female mentor and student?
Sure there’s a formula. A mentor and pupil embark on a journey, and both their lives are forever changed by knowing each other. Films like this inspire hope, instilling the belief that one person can change the world. The only problem is all movies of this particular sub-genre happen to suck it hard when the mentor is a dame. Prove me wrong. Name it. A single one. A good one.
Um, no, Jane Austen’s Emma does not count. Despite the fact that it’s a book turned movie, it’s a film about decorum, and let’s face it, it’s a romantic comedy. The central story, the "A story" is the relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightly. Not Emma and her "pupil" Miss harriet Smith.
I’m just so hard pressed to find a film where the mentor is female… where she’s not in white face upon a throne. AND THERE’S THE RUB. Want a good mentor film with a chick? You need to make her hard as nails, slightly softening at the end. Just slightly. "Devil Wears Prada" ring any bells? That, or she’s a hellraiser for a cause, which is NOT the same thing as forming a mentor/pupil relationship. It’s a genre of it’s own.
Which female mentor movies could be shelved with these favorites: "Scent of A Woman," "Finding Forrester," "Dead Poet’s Society," and "Good Will Hunting."
They’re all dramas, all men. Why is that? Why don’t any of these types of roles work with women? Have you seen any films like this that are successful in sticking to you? Ones you think of often, films you find yourself quoting? Not films about fighting the good fight, about rising up against the man, challenging bureaucracy, and ripping through red tape. Films about one woman inspiring change in a pupil, following her passions, taking an interest in a troubled or talented child.
And in this corner, we meet what’s out there, supposedly just as strong, except there’s tea being served in the corner, and patrons are starting to fidget. Is this all you’re serving up? If I’d known, I would’ve eaten beforehand. This is it?
"Mona Lisa Smile:" I wanted to like it, I really did. I absolutely loved the casting and admit to having a total girl crush on Maggie Gyllanhaal, but the film was dry, too serious, and terribly expected. Sure, all these films are expected; that is, we know the formula, but we’re hoping the writers make it worth our while, that they make us think, make us feel, despite knowing how it will all end. No one goes around quoting this film, or leaves the theater thinking of her own life differently. We want to laugh, to think, and to be changed by a film. Even in a small way. At least I do.
"Music of the Heart:" If anyone can pull it off, it’s Meryl Streep with her harried, breathless way, always flustered and exhausted; a struggling mother who you can’t help but root for. Of all the fems in this mentor genre, she does it best. But if this film were on a shelf, it would be flanked by "Mr. Holland’s Opus" and "August Rush." Abutting them, we’d find their brainier, less musical, cousins: "Stand & Deliver," "Lean on Me," and… oh God, "Dangerous Minds" (eek). Michelle Pfiefer as a marine. Enough said– though I did tear up at the end. But it didn’t even touch the heels of "Stand & Deliver."
I’m a sucker for all movies where the main characters are underdogs. Because you root for them. You can’t help it. Which brings us to the mentor "jock" flicks, of which there are many: "Karate Kid," "Coach Carter," and "Hoosiers," just to name a few.
Even looking at the lighter side of things, examining mentor relationships in comedies where you take slackers forced into being role models, as we’ve seen in "School of Rock," "About a Boy," "Role Models," "Big Daddy," and even the ancient "Meatballs." Where the hell is the fem power?
What’s the last good (comedy or drama) you’ve seen where you’ve wished that wise woman on film were part of your life, one you want to make you a playlist, to get your back, to believe in you? The closest I’ve ever seen? The mother in Little Women. How sad. I feel like it’s my mission to write a comedy with heart with a female mentor, someone you want to quote, someone who changes lives.