Susanna Fogel is a wonderful screenwriter and director, probably best known for her most recent film, Booksmart, a comedy directed by Olivia Wilde and starring Beanie Feldstein and Katelyn Dever, nominated for a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay, and for the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay. However, Booksmart is not Fogel’s only success; it is rather the culmination of her skills depicting strong female leads and nuanced female friendships that she has been building since 2014.
In 2014, Fogel wrote and directed Life Partners, a rom-com about best friends Paige (Gillian Jacobs) and Sasha (Leighton Meester), attempting to navigate romance, careers, and how their friendship fits into it all as they enter into adulthood. My favorite part about Life Partners is that, even though it’s a rom-com, it centers around Paige and Sasha’s friendship. For that reason, it’s just about the only rom-com I’ve seen that actually rings true to me. My friendships have always been far more important in my life than my romantic relationships, and I know this is true for tons of other women. While other rom-coms depict a woman’s life as terrible before a man comes in and wonderful after, Life Partners acknowledges that women have lives and important relationships outside of their romances. Plus, Sasha is a lesbian, so the heteronormative ideals that typically characterize the rom-com category are further subverted.
In 2018, Fogel put her feminist flair on an action movie. The Spy Who Dumped Me, which she wrote and also co-directed, is about Audrey (Mila Kunis) who goes on a wild journey to Europe with her best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) to carry out a mission for her ex-boyfriend, whom she’s just discovered is a spy for the CIA. The action surrounds Audrey and Morgan as they attempt to navigate the world of the CIA, which is completely alien to them – a situation that in itself is pretty funny. The chemistry between Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon only makes the film more enjoyable to watch. They’re so natural, honest, and vulnerable together, it’s like they’ve really been best friends forever. I love The Spy Who Dumped Me because Audrey and Morgan are insecure, unsure what to do with their lives, and just a bit, well, strange, but they’re totally badass in the face of danger. It’s a combination I’ve seen in male characters many a time in films (think: Spiderman) but that is much more rare in a female on screen. It’s Audrey and Morgan’s “quirks” that make the film not only hilarious, but totally loveable.
Last, but definitely not least, is Booksmart. Fogel wrote Booksmart with a team of female writers, and it’s excellence shows that collaboration can make an artist who’s already wonderful even better. Though she didn’t direct this one, Fogel’s mastery of the female best-friendship permeates the entire film. Amy (Katelyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are high school seniors, about to graduate at the top of their class. But when the realization hits that they did not need to sacrifice fun for academic success, and in fact could have done both, the two set out to party with the rest of their grade on the night before graduation – the last chance they have to prove they can be fun. Amy and Molly’s love for one another is the heart of the film: in one of my favorite moments, the two emerge from closets wearing unplanned identical outfits, and rather than getting upset, they immediately begin hyping each other up. They celebrate each other and push each other to be their best selves throughout the film, and it’s truly heartbreakingS when their inevitable separation for college comes upon them. It’s always a joy to experience best-friendship on film when it’s portrayed well. On top of that, the film is simply hilarious. Fogel and her team of writers never fall back on predictable high school tropes and cliches in their story, and the originality is refreshing. I saw people I recognized from high school in these characters and felt that it truly captured the insanity that is high school in a way I’d never seen before, and it’s just really funny.
To me, the joy of Fogel’s films is the joy of female friendship, which makes each of her films wonderful to watch, and on top of that, her sense of humor is completely original and refreshing. Susanna Fogel is an absolute gift to the world of film.
© Julia Lasker (7/27/20) Special for FF2 Media®
Feature photo & 1st photo: Susanna Fogel on the set of Life Partners © 2014 – Magnolia Pictures.
2rd photo: Photo by Hopper Stone/SMPSP/Hopper Stone/SMPSP – © Lionsgate Entertainment.