It has come to my attention that the maintenance staff is switching our toilet paper from Charmin to generic. All those opposed to chafing, please say ‘Aye.’ – Legally Blonde
Feminism is funny. In researching our favorite funny films from the early 2000s, we found a surprising common thread – writing team Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith. These two women are responsible for memorable comedies with strong female characters, and their dialogue has become part of our daily vernacular. Before raunchy R-rated comedies took precedence, the PG-13 era produced 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), Legally Blonde (2001), She’s the Man (2006) and The House Bunny, to name a few.
From doing the bend and snap to shoving tampons up our noses, these films have shaped not only what a generation of girls finds funny, but more importantly, how tough, smart women are sometimes underestimated.
This array of characters find friends in unlikely places and unconventional ways to solve their problems, common themes in McCullah and Smith’s work. Katarina Stratford (Julia Stiles) isn’t popular and doesn’t care. Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) becomes a lawyer in spite of her peers’ low expectations. Viola Hastings (Amanda Bynes) gets creative to give her soccer team the same opportunities as her male counterparts. Shelley Darlingson (Anna Faris) becomes an example to insecure sorority misfits. And they do all this while making us laugh, and showing us that nothing worth doing is ever easy.
Underneath the “chick flick” label lies successful films that weren’t come-and-go at the box office. They play and replay, and replay again. Both men and women revisit these stories for the laugh, unknowingly participating in a march of a different color. After 18 years, what makes Katarina’s poem so endearing? Why is Elle’s pink, scented resume so cool? And why do we still laugh every time Viola (as Sebastian) says, “You know it, brah?”
The key to a young girl’s heart is humor – watching these films in middle school sent almost a subliminal feminist message. We weren’t focusing on the fact that Elle Woods got into law school and proved everyone wrong, or that Viola Hastings was fighting sexism on her soccer team – we were too busy laughing to realize that these messages of strength and determination would stick with us. McCullah and Smith’s bend and snap works every time.
These stories pass the Bechdel-Wallace test with flying colors, but they’re also hilarious and surprisingly sweet. Despite their charming love stories, getting the guy is never the number-one goal, which isn’t prevalent enough in movies today. Audiences put in the DVD or press play on Netflix for the laughs, but stay for the feeling. And we don’t take it for granted. Not even a little bit. Not even at all.
© Georgiana E. Presecky & Brigid K. Presecky (2/08/17) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Reese Witherspoon as “Elle Woods” in Legally Blonde
Middle Photo: Heath Ledger as “Patrick Verona” and Julia Stiles as “Katarina Stratford” in 10 Things I Hate About You
Bottom Photo: Anna Faris as “Shelley Darlingson” in The House Bunny
Photo Credits: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Touchstone Pictures, Columbia Pictures