Maureen Dowd: Women ratchet up the raunch for themselves

New generation of women in film and TV take things into their own hands

Mindy Kaling, creator and star of   The Mindy Project, one of a new genre of films and television shows written by  women that portray a more sexually frank account of their  lives.   Photograph: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SCAD

Mindy Kaling, creator and star of The Mindy Project, one of a new genre of films and television shows written by women that portray a more sexually frank account of their lives. Photograph: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SCAD

 

It is a vulgar truth universally acknowledged that Sex and the City creators on HBO Darren Star and Michael Patrick King ratcheted up the raunch of the original Candace Bushnell column about single women in Manhattan. It is also a vulgar truth universally acknowledged that Judd Apatow, the lord of male nerd revels such as Knocked Up and Superbad, ratcheted up the raunch of the original Bridesmaids script by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. He pitched the nervous screenwriters on the idea of the now famous fart-and-poop scene where the women are hit with an epic blast of food-poisoning while trying on gowns at a fancy shop.

But, more and more, women are bringing the raunch to the screen. Hollywood is still all about the dumb testosterone tentpoles and parched when it comes to women filmmakers. Yet there is a small but significant trend of women writing, directing and producing more sexually explicit movies and TV shows.

“People are starting to realise that they can make money letting women be honest and forthright about their sexuality,” said Dana Calvo, a television writer and producer developing a drama at Amazon called The Good Girls Revolt. “It’s just as crass and simple as that.”

The Sundance Film Festival in January, dubbed “Sexy Sundance” by the press, was awash in graphic scenes from the female perspective. In The Bronze, Melissa Rauch – the Big Bang Theory actor who co-wrote, produced and starred in the comedy – plays a former gymnast who has sex by herself while watching a film of her own medal-winning uneven bars routine and sex with a fellow gymnastics coach featuring comically exaggerated swings, twists and upside-down splits.

In Sleeping with Other People, written and directed by Leslye Headland, who also wrote the ribald Bachelorette, Jason Sudeikis instructs Alison Brie on the art of pleasuring herself, using an empty green tea bottle as a stand-in for lady parts.

And in the dark indie I Smile Back, written by Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan, Sarah Silverman plays a sex-and- drug-and-vodka-drenched suburban mother who masturbates with her daughter’s teddy bear as she lies on the floor next to the sleeping child.

Hashtag

too far There was also a panel at Sundance in which Mindy Kaling, creator and star of

The Mindy Project on Fox, and Lena Dunham, creator and star of Girls on HBO, discussed being on the sexual and comic edge and running into what Dunham called “the hashtag too far thing”.

Both women had much discussed episodes recently depicting sexual practices that, on Fox anyhow, had to be dealt with obliquely. “We couldn’t even get too close to mentioning it,” Kaling said, noting that she is in “more than constant interaction” with the Fox lawyer.

Whitney Cummings, the stand-up comedienne who joined Michael Patrick King to create CBS’s bawdy hit, 2 Broke Girls, told me: “Dirty words coming out of pretty mouths seems to be riveting people, even though the characters on Sex And The City were covering this territory 10 years ago.”

She said: “When a guy writes a scene where a woman does a deviant sex act on camera, it’s objectifying. But when a woman writes it, it’s feminism. When girls write it for themselves, it’s extra taboo because it’s like, ‘Women have all these ideas, too! We thought men were making them do all this dirty stuff!’ It becomes raunchy all of a sudden when women like it. It’s in the zeitgeist because there’s a bunch of female writers and creators now; and, by a bunch, I mean, like, four.

“I don’t see things getting raunchier, because I don’t think women having sex is raunchy. I think it’s healthy and normal. If a guy does it on TV he’s a cool bro, a heartthrob. If a woman does it, she’s raunchy.”

Other women writers and directors agreed. “It’s not even that raunchy. It’s just something we haven’t seen until recently because, for forever, women’s sexuality was looked at from the male’s point of view, even if it was supposedly a woman’s story,” said Frankie Shaw, who wrote, directs and stars in Smilf, which won the short film jury award for US fiction at Sundance and is being turned into a TV series.

Dirty, imperfect and real Her film is about a single mother who tries to rekindle a connection with an old boyfriend. He’s excited until he realis

es that she’s proposing to have sex in the same bed as her sleeping toddler.

“While men react with shock and awe when their screen shows a woman giving herself a quick intimate wipe down prior to a date or when a woman with cellulite bares all, we know it’s not raunch. It’s not ground-breaking,” Shaw says. “It’s just our life – dirty, imperfect and real.”

Maggie Carey, writer and director of the risqué teenage comedy The To Do List, agreed: “I was not comfortable with the term ‘raunchy’ because it felt derogatory. I prefer to call it frank.”

The heroines in these stories are blunt about what turns them on and off. Afternoon Delight is a 2013 movie starring Kathryn Hahn and written and directed by Jill Soloway about an affluent, bored Los Angeles woman who causes mayhem when she gives a homeless stripper/ hooker a room. When Hahn and other mothers get together over red wine, one says she has masturbated for two decades to the Jodie Foster rape scene in The Accused and Hahn recalls a strange guy coming into her college dorm room and having sex with her, noting: “This is not a rape story. That’s what sex in college is. Nobody asks in college.”

In Obvious Child, which premiered at Sundance last year and turned the topic of abortion into romantic comedy, Jenny Slate plays an aspiring stand-up comic who mocks her boyfriend’s hammering sex. Apatow, who has collaborated with young comedians such as Dunham and Amy Schumer, is gratified that, by taking $288 million at the box office, Bridesmaids created a market for “women telling stories where they’re 100 per cent honest about their experience.”

Apatow is the producer and director of Schumer’s first movie, Trainwreck, about a sexually promiscuous young woman who finds love with a sports doctor. “They’re comfortable showing the mistakes they make and sometimes those mistakes are in the sexual arena – ‘Here’s my terrible one-night stand’,” Apatow says.

“But sexuality is just part of it. The most titillating part is making the choice not to censor themselves on the emotional honesty. There’s definitely some aspect where men are troubled by women owning their power. I don’t know if women are equally troubled by male sexuality, if they find watching Porky’s ridiculous or annoying. But it’s great to do it and have people debate it.”

Apatow, who’s an executive producer of Girls, said the funny part for him is when people assume he is the instigator of lewd themes in the show, “when I had nothing to do with it and I was the one who wrote the emotional, weepy scene”. – (New York Times)

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