Recent Movies and Series Directed by Women

Yesterday while driving I heard the stirring theme music of the movie The Piano (1993) played on CBC Radio 2. Memories flooded my mind. I recalled watching it in the movie theatre way back then. A deaf-mute unable to speak but can overwhelm others as she plays the piano to express herself.

I thought of Jane Campion, writer/director of the film, marvelled at her skills in conveying thoughts and emotions via the visual medium, and thought of other women directors who’d helmed many of my favourite films. I’ve had two previous posts on Women Directors here and here. Now taking stock mentally of the recent movies and series I’ve watched on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Kanopy while home-staying, I notice several of them are created and/or directed by women.

The Piano

Consider the following list with my capsule reviews an update of my previous Women Directors posts.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Amazon Prime) – Directed by Marielle Heller 

Director Heller and the screenwriters transport Mr. Roger’s child-friendly, essential human wisdom to realistic, adult situations. The film isn’t so much about Mr. Rogers but the real-life story of journalist Tom Junod’s life-changing encounters with Fred Rogers for a magazine assignment. Tom Hanks is ideal as Mr. Rogers, and Matthew Rhys is effective in playing journalist Lloyd Vogel.

Who’s Matthew Rhys, you might ask? I highly recommend you watch “The Americans” series. Or, if you’re an Austen spinoffs fan, he’s Mr. Darcy in the mini-series “Death Comes to Pemberley”, adaptation of the novel by P. D. James. And, if you were around to watch the original Raymond Burr detective series on TV, the Wales-born actor is the new Perry Mason in our time.

Little Fires Everywhere (Amazon Prime) – Created and screenplay by Liz Tigelaar, Directors Lynn Shelton and Nzingha Stewart. 

The 8-Episode mini-series is the screen adaptation of Asian American novelist Celeste Ng’s second novel. My full book review can be found here. The thematic elements of race, motherhood, family secrets, clashes of generations and values are visualized and made more acute as Kerry Washington is cast as an African-American artist playing against Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Richardson, the gatekeeper of the white upper-middle-class community of Shaker Heights, OH. The artist Mia Warren in Ng’s novel isn’t black, but turning her into one makes the conflict of the story more timely and pressing.

Four episodes are directed by Lynn Shelton who sadly died in May, 2020. Another female director Nzingha Stewart helmed two.

Never have I Ever (Netflix) – Created by Lang Fisher and Mindy Kaling. Directors Linda Mendoza and Anu Valia 

Here’s a recent trend that’s encouraging. Movies and series are created to feature minority cultures in America. The talented Mindy Kaling, who wrote the screenplay and co-starred with Emma Thompson in Late Night (2019) plus many other credits, created this comedy series about high school girl Devi’s experience growing up Indian-American, something Kaling knows full well. Many LOL situations and dialogues throughout the ten episodes. Kaling scouted Maitreyi Ramakrishnan in Mississauga, ON, Canada, to play Devi. A fresh look into the multi-cultural humanity that our North American population comprises. In recent years we talk a lot about representation. This is a humorous and realistic look into a vibrant sector.

The Half of It (Netflix) – Directed by Alice Wu

Here’s another lens to look into our younger generation growing up bi-cultural. The full length feature directed by Chinese-American Alice Wu is this year’s Tribeca Film Festival’s Best Narrative Feature winner. A shy academic ace, Ellie Chu, earns her pocket money from writing essays for her fellow classmates. When one day, she’s recruited by the school jock Paul Munsky to be a ghost writer of poetic love letters to a girl he tries to date, Ellie begins to feel a moral dilemma. The characterization and storyline make this feature a contemporary twist on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Humor is situational with some poignant scenes, making the film all the more enjoyable.

Unorthodox (Netflix) – Created by Anna Winger, Directed by Maria Schrader

Inspired by the memoir of Deborah Feldman, who broke away from her strict Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, NY, and escaped to Berlin where she changed into a new persona and started a different life. I haven’t read the memoir but I know the four-part mini-series take the liberty to re-imagine how she goes about changing her life while in Berlin. The series is captivating as viewers are introduced to the Hasidic, male-dominated and authoritarian community. Again, there are many cultural sectors in our society and through films we get to know a little bit more of how others live and the struggles they go through.

Ophelia (Netflix) – Directed by Claire McCarthy

Adaptation of the book by Lisa Klein, screenplay by Semi Chellas, Ophelia is a re-imagined story of what happened in the royal castle of Elsinore and in particular, Hamlet’s sweetheart. Lots of liberty in tweaking and twisting but still interesting to watch, albeit a lightweight Hamlet compared to the original. Notable cast includes Naomi Watts as Gertrude, Clive Owen as Claudius. Hamlet is played by George MacKay before his titular role in the WWII movie 1917, and Ophelia is Star War‘s Rey Daisy Ridley.

Hamlet (Kanopy) – Film Direction by Margaret Williams, London Stage Direction by Sarah Frankcom

A filmed recording of the play performed in Royal Exchange, Manchester. This Hamlet is a fresh take with Maxine Peake as the emotionally devastated and revengeful Prince of Denmark. Only after watching that I Google search to find the first female to play Hamlet dates back to 1796 in London Drury Lane, then 1820 in New York. Several others had followed since. But this is my first time watching. Maxine Peake’s performance almost instantly cast away all my preset feelings. She’s high-octane energy; her voice, physical stage presence totally captivate, convincing yet delicate. She’s herself and not an impersonator. Modern costume makes it more natural and, love her haircut. Peake makes me look at her not as a female taking up a male role, but a superb actor playing the ‘Everest of roles’.

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review.

11 thoughts on “Recent Movies and Series Directed by Women”

  1. I heard an interview with Deborah Feldman on NPR on afternoon while I was driving, and although I didn’t catch her name or the name of the book/film, when I read your review I realized that’s who it was. The interview was fascinating, and now Unorthodox is at the top of my list for watching. If you can find the interview, it’s well worth listening to, as well.

    By the way — Happy Canada Day! I still play Freecell from time to time, but I dumped the Microsoft games and now use an online version. I was dilly-dallying early this morning, trying to sort out which chore to do first, and I brought up the Freecell game. It took me a minute to figure out what I was seeing, but then I laughed. They had turned the hearts on the cards into maple leaves, as a tribute to you Canadians!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. This is the most unique Canada Day we’ve had (and hope not to be repeated in the future). No outdoor celebrations, all virtual. You’re probably seeing more maple leaves than I do. As for games, I’ve been hooked on Two Dots on my iPhone. 🙂

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    1. While ‘Unorthodox’ is riveting and maybe even eye-opening, I find the latter part of her ‘rebirth’ in Berlin not very convincing. I know that part is different from her memoir.

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  2. I watched the ‘Little Fires’ on a free Apple trial I really enjoyed it but I thought the end was wrong, I didn’t feel the ending was right, I love Reece Witherspoon so I was slightly sympathetic to her constantly trying to do the right things and seek approval from others to validate herself. It caused a lot of conflicting emotions, sympathy for the surrogate couple, just everyone really it left me restless but I did enjoy it.

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    1. It’s certainly unsettling to find out the dark secrets in people. I’m curious to see what your view is about the ending, what you feel is wrong about the ending. When you have time, do throw in your two pebbles and share with us. 🙂

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      1. When they said all the children did it for me it didn’t make sense and gave the Mum nowhere to come back from, it would have made more sense had the wayward daughter set the fire before she left which would have been more realistic and allowed the rest of the family to settle their differences but the series ended just required more lies to cover up what happened when it was lies that got them into the mess in the first place.

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        1. This is so strange. I just wonder if the UK version is different from the N. Am one. I went back to watch the ending again just to confirm. It’s Elena who said “I did it.” Not “all the children did it for me.” However, I feel both these answers are to be taken in a symbolic way i.e. it’s Elena who’s the ’cause’ of all these problems, she’s “the root of it all” as the book says. Both these statements are meant not to be taken literally but within context of the story. It’s her own misplaced values that started all the events from the very beginning, maybe as early as when she first became a mother or first moved into Shakers Heights. The book’s ending is the ‘third’ way, but to be exact, the original ending. I highly recommend Little Fires Everywhere to be placed on your audiobook to-listen list. 🙂

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          1. I expressed myself incorrectly, I felt that the youngest daughter would have set the fire not the three siblings I just thought that was unrealistic. I didn’t like the Mum taking all the blame especially as the Fire Chief said that the youngest daughter was below the age of criminal responsibility, plus wouldn’t that have made any insurance claim invalid if the Mum did it and make her liable to go into prison for arson?

            I agree with you though about the symbolism of Elena taking the blame because ultimately her difficult relationship with her daughter and distance from her emotionally certainly created a lot of the problems. I will listen to the audio book.

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