Surveying the press on the Toronto International Film Festival, buzz-worthy projects centered around young female characters appear to be more common than usual this year. I welcome the emphasis on this typically neglected group! More often than not, men tend to dominate narratives, pushing women out of the frame and leaving little room for their stories. Even more unusual, these female-centered features seem largely geared around sexuality and explore hefty themes.
The most obviously gynocentric project, Jennifer’s Body, has already been discussed at length on this blog; a lesser-known film with many of JB’s players will also be screening at Toronto. The film, Chloe, stars Amanda Seyfried in the title role, along with Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson as a middle-aged married couple while Atom Egoyan directs and Jason Reitman produces. Moore’s Catherine hire’s Chloe, a high-priced escort played by Seyfried, to seduce her husband David in order to test his fidelity to their marriage. According to the TIFF synopsis, “Catherine finds herself ‘directing’ Chloe’s encounters with David, and Chloe’s end of the bargain is to report back, the descriptions becoming increasingly graphic as the meetings multiply.” The premise sounds promising, to say the least, with a capable cast to realize these fascinating scenarios.
I’m also heartened by the folks behind the camera. The writer, Erin Cressida Wilson, previously ventured into such dark erotic territory as the scriptor of Secretary and Fur, and while I found fault with the former (haven’t seen the latter), I admired Wilson’s gumption in taking on such taboo subject-matter. Similarly, Egoyan’s films have explored uncomfortable sexual subjects. Here are a few trailers to give you a sense of his work:
Notice that both films feature smart young female characters (Sarah Polley as Nicole in The Sweet Hereafter and Elaine Cassidy in Felicia’s Journey). Both characters also face difficult choices, with Nicole being asked to testify in a liability case and Felicia facing an unanticipated pregnancy. Each acts with differing degrees of agency, but both characters provide rich material and prove resilient despite their setbacks. Most interestingly, they both have complex sexual lives that play an important role in the plot. These themes tend to occur rarely, and I admire Egoyan for incorporating them so consistently.
I’m interested to see how the film handles the age difference between its two protagonists; generational difference appears to be the primary tension motivating the narrative. Refreshingly, it appears that the film gives the protagonist, Jenny (played by Carey Mulligan), a great deal of agency.
In short, some filmmakers have come a long way from Lolita in conveying the sexual and psychological lives of young women.