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Months of Meryl: THE RIVER WILD

"Great post and comments. Yes, Streep had to navigate the rough waters of being in her 40's! I do think she smashed through the glass ceiling for women since she persevered and then became an even bigger star in her 50's." - Sister Rona

"One of my favourite movies from my teen years - I'm shocked at how long ago this was released. It was Meryl that sold this movie for me and is the reason I saw it. At the time, and I still feel this way, she is the reason to watch and believe this film." -Filmboymichael

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Hello, lovelies. Beau here, hoping you all have had a fantastic weekend. Whether that involved arguing over the season finale of Girls, shielding your eyes from Halle Berry’s hair in The Call, or just readying yourselves for the onslaught of leprechauns and green colored ale that is St. Patrick's Day, I hope it’s been an enjoyable one before heading back into the work week.

A lot has been said about Lena Dunham and Girls. I don’t have a strong desire at this point to rehash the plot details and synopses of the past episode or the entire season for that matter (though I did that for the finale of season one). But, for myself, being an avid viewer of Girls and eagerly anticipating the next step in Ms. Dunham’s career, the most discomforting element of all the criticism and controversy surrounding the show is that there is particular attention being paid to the characters "likability".

This concern isn’t strictly limited to Dunham or Girls. The "unlikable!" charge has been levied at multiple television programs and films these past couple of years, as though whether or not you liked the primary set of characters, or the supporting ones, dictated whether or not the work as a whole was working or not.


Regan. Eve. Maya.

I remember being pretty put off, frankly, this past summer when several online pundits and reviewers were slandering Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette for this very reason. more...

As though it were a novel concept, to build a film around ‘unlikable’ characters whose self-loathing spills forth out onto one another, an addictive toxicity one could liken to a drug addiction or alcohol dependence. I liked these women because, guess what? They rang true. Self-destructive behavior can be a very difficult thing to watch, but what I found fascinating and commendable was the clarity with which Headland presented the women, not apologizing for who they are or allowing the characters themselves to apologize. Why should they?

The same kind of criticism was levied at Mark Boal’s drawing of Maya in Zero Dark Thirty, where we’re not given access to her life outside of her vocation. The script is purposefully dense in outlining her, save for a line about sex that’s pretty telling in and of itself, and the last silent moment where we see, in Chastain, a hollowness slowly being filled again. I wrote in my year end review of the best films of 2012 that the film is ‘fatalism on the rampage’. Maya is fated to this, not unlike Cassandra; it is her destiny. She believes that she is left alive when so many of her peers have been murdered or assassinated, because she is the only one that is meant to. That single minded determination does not allow room for you to carry your history, your fears, and your doubts; you are, simply, your mission. You are your destiny. Maya’s ultimate sacrifice is as valiant and honorable as any agent or officer she has served and lost throughout the film. But because we aren’t made privy to her life before her mission, we can’t account for her. How are we supposed to like someone we don’t know? the consensus rang. But how can we know her? Boal’s real achievement with this script was painting the reality that war is a monster that doesn’t take sides. It consumes everything. Unaffiliated Vampirism.  The real tragedy of this, or any war for that matter, isn’t just limited to the lives lost on the field, but the lives of the men and women who had to lose themselves and come home afterwards.

See, it’s not as though we haven’t been inundated with flawed men and women and antiheroes for centuries. Hamlet, Macbeth, Nora, The Joker, Don Draper, Vanya, Anton Chigurh, Madame Bovary, Hedda Gabler, Miranda Priestly, Holden Caulfield, Annie Wilkes, Dexter, Tony Soprano, Cartman, Daniel Plainview, Walter White, Travis Bickle, Beatrix Kiddo, Shylock, Lisbeth Salander, Hannibal Lecter, and Scarlett O'Hara are all characters whose direct appeal is that they repulse us and entice us simultaneously. 

But occasionally, we’ll be presented with wholly disgusting figures onscreen who are beyond our capacity for empathy. I think of Rachel McAdams in Midnight in Paris, a shrew of a woman conceptually conjoined with a shrill, vacant performance that does nothing to enhance or make up for what Woody Allen's creation lacks on the page. I think of Ellis on Smash, a character so driven by his ambition, so merciless and repulsive in his actions that you can’t even be bothered to love to hate him. (That in and of itself is a high wire act, a very treacherous one that can only a handful of performers can tread across with relative ease. Think Imelda Staunton in Order of the Phoenix, Anne Baxter in All About Eve, etc.) But the vitriol and the hate I felt towards Ellis is a unique, rare strand where I hoped against hope, much to my surprise and shame, that he would find himself the victim of some unspeakable yet appropriate accident, like getting squashed by the Green Goblin during a performance of Turn On The Dark.

Their ultimate crime, as Nathaniel pointed out to me when we were discussing this earlier, is that they are not interesting characters. That long previous list of iconic men and women who have dominated fiction for the past few hundred years have the indomitable ability to pull us into their drama because, on some conscious or subconscious level, we want to understand them. They possess some ineffable quality that is both distinctly human and inhuman.

Now, of course, some people just may not be interested in the three women in Bachelorette. Or Hannah and her compatriots in Girls. Or any one of those characters listed up above. Maybe their plight and predicament doesn’t hold any interest for you in the slightest. That is a valid feeling, and one that no one needs to defend or explain. But if a character fascinates you, if something draws you to them, be it their morality or lack thereof, liking them is redundant, and besides the point.

In the end, you find you’re too busy watching them to care.



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Reader Comments (33)

Were you secretly at the St. Patty's day dinner that I attended last night, Beau, because I had this same conversation with a friend? His contention was that he can't bring himself to love series such as "Mad Men" and "Community" due to the fact that the main characters, particularly, aren't likable enough. Therefore, he can't invest in their stories. I didn't feel like arguing, so I offered a simple "fair enough" as a response.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Great piece, Beau. One thing missing, and this could just be because it is so heavily into television more than film, is how the anti-hero male on TV does not really face the same level of criticisms in likability as female characters do. Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper or any given male character who was the focus on The Wire do not necessarily aspiration characters we should fall in love with but they are fascinating case studies. Now some viewers really do think these guys are cool because of the fantasy professions they have on some level and the danger of the outlaw but these are also men with families that put those close to them at risk. Were these characters female, I really do not think that side of TV fandom would be celebrating or aspiring to those characters existing, in fact, they would be criticizing those characters.

And Maya remains interesting. I know people who feel that way in terms of the criticism discussed in the piece but I also have read and heard people annoyed that Maya's 'lone-wolf' status and that she is too forceful and ferocious, as if the movie was pushing the idea that because Maya got her hunch right that she should be celebrated- something that I strongly disagree with in the movie suggesting (specifically in the last shot). I think people are just not used to that kind of character being devoid of likability, introspection, reflectiveness, or any present insecurity and it is largely due to her gender. But I also think the film does tell us she does not represent all women of the CIA or the way she acts is due to wanting to be like a man, as her own male colleagues are shone through different stripes too. Maya is an empty character and not one who seeks to be likable or easy to relate to even among her colleagues. The closed off construct of her by the agency she grew up in pretty much makes us uneasy about her. It is a character type even rare among men but even more of a unicorn with a female character.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

"a hollowness slowly being filled again" - so beautiful and apt, Beau!

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

That's why the best TV performance I've been seeing for the last 5 five years will never get recognized: Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell in Mad Men. And that's why January Jones' terrific work as Betty gets so much hate. People hate Betty, but the performance is flawless.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I was just going to say, since it's starting up again...Betty on Mad Men drives people nuts! And by extension, January Jones now drives people nuts.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Blergh, ignore my grammar errors!! I had a weak cup of cofee today.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

People really do conflate Betty with JJ. Oddly, nobody does that for Kartheiser and somehow Pete Campbell's pretty long wrap-sheet of indiscretions do not get the think pieces and fan criticism like Betty Draper gets. I somewhat blame that on the whole retrospective part of the viewer watching Mad Men, how some identify their mother to Betty or even just wish she had some feminist awakening that they believed the show originally promised for her. Again, that still feels like people are down on the character based on her gender.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Your real gripe isn't people shunning unlikable characters, it's the brunt of their reservations are reserved for female characters. Men escape the likability requirement, they're expected to be aggressive, single-minded, and selfish. Women being the slightest bit disappointing in their choices have a bevy of words to put them in their place and categorize them.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Great post Beau! I always get pissed when people complain about not liking characters and think of that as a flaw in the show or movie. I don't think you're supposed to like characters, art isn't about becoming friends with these people. It's about watching them and being consumed by them even against your own prejudices. I don't know when did people become so involved in "feeling" and "caring" for movie or TV characters. I love what you express about Maya in ZDT because not only are you right, but you remind us why Chastain was so overpowering in that role, despite her impenetrability we can't deny the fact that she knows who this woman is and she created a whole life for her - otherwise that last scene just wouldn't work - it just happens that we'll never get to know anything about it.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJose

My first thought reading this through is that all of the characters people seem to be complaining about being unlikable are women, while all unlikable male characters are praised as "anti-heroes". Then again, it's also worth noting that most of these women are characters in pieces that are ostensibly comedic as opposed to dramatic, where all the men are. Men vs. women, comedy vs. drama... these are rivalries as old as time. For me it's not so much whether or not a character is likable, but whether or not the actors and writers can make me care about them.

I don't know (or, frankly, care) about anyone else, but I care about Hannah and her friends on Girls despite their being insufferable, because they've been built very carefully and because they're trying to find themselves, a plight I sympathize with as I am going through it myself. I feel like people write off characters whose choices they don't agree with without really taking the time to look beneath the surface. Unlikable characters are often (though most emphatically NOT always) some of the most fascinating characters BECAUSE they're unlikable.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I'm so glad you brought up the Rachel McAdams character in "Midnight in Paris." That's what really made me discount the movie. She was so poorly written and Rachel couldn't find any "real" aspect to her. She was so profoundly unlikable AND unrealistic that I just couldn't let myself go into the movie.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

Great post, Beau. I agree with a lot of your points.

And I will speak up on behalf of Betty Draper/JJ haters:

I would call Betty Draper in the early seasons of the show pretty well done, but in recent seasons, January Jones' limitations as an actress makes the character hard to watch. I like where they took her character, but I don't think Jones pulls it off.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkelsy

In this interview here Mike White had some interesting stuff to say on this subject with regards to Enlightened, where people can't seem to make heads or tails of Laura Dern's complicated character. "Likeable" is a red flag for me - I prefer characters be anything but. Likeable is fucking boring.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJA

Loving this discussion. I was ready to jump on the gender card, but it's interesting to point out the needed connection to a character. Without launching into it, I think is more difficult in society for a man to states he relates to a female character than the other way around. That's its own discussion though.

I have to admit, I didn't like Girls and I blame the likability factor. It's important to note a valid concern though - I care less about likability than I do about interest. The women in Sex & the City were unlikable in a lot of ways, but the show drew me in because they were relatable. You need a hook in entertainment. Girls didn't hook me because, in all honesty, the characters struck me as people I would avoid. I don't love to hate them, I just don't care. I'm sure plenty of people would say the same about SATC, but those women remind me of people in my life, atleast on some level.

So here's my point: Characters shouldn't have to be likable (what a boring cinema world!), idolized for villainy (defined in any way) or even relatable. The only requirement: They MUST be interesting.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I blame latter season Betty Draper on her limited role on the series now being so heavily tied to Don and now Sally since the divorce. The only times we now see her are when she is not really pleasant at all. I blame that more on the writing and the fact had Kiernan Shipka made such a major impression as she grew up in the show that maybe the kids and therefore, a specific side of Betty, would have faded into the background like other ancillary characters on the show did in the past.

Hannah- I agree. All of the women in that movie were not really too well-rounded, at least in my opinion. For an Allen movie that is pretty surprising.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Jose: My view: There's some movies that craft "unlikable" characters that are aware of that unlikability. Those are interesting. Other movies, using The Descendants as my personal favourite example, craft a character set that is almost entirely (or entirely) unlikable, even though they're actually supposed to be likeable. In The Descendants case, the only scenes I could really watch involved Judy Greer (the only truly sympathetic character) playing off the total jerk-offs of the rest of the cast. In those scenes, I saw for brief moments what critics were going on and on about as far as this being Best Picture fodder. My problem boils down to: Matt King is not supposed to be George Clooney or someone similar. Matt King is supposed to be Steve Buscemi or someone similar.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Curious Jose, when you say "I don't know when did people become so involved in "feeling" and "caring" for movie or TV characters." are you equating liking a character with caring about them? Because I agree using likability as a base for appreciating a film or series is specious, but I think caring about them is integral to caring about the art piece they exist. If I don't care about the people enveloping this thing, I'm apt to become disinterested especially in the case of a long form series where I'm expected to sustain an appreciation for it over time.

Incidentally, one of the reasons I like but do not love "Mad Men" is because of my general lack of caring for the main players which stymies any overwhelming investment on the series as a whole on my part.

And, I know I'm even more alone on this re Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty" the critical reason the film ends up not quite working for me is because I don't care about her Maya. I don't find her unlikeable (she has ferociously good work ethic, for one) but I do find her frustratingly blank to the point of me being unable to invest any sort of care in the climax of her story-arc.

Digressions aside, I agree that liking a character is a problematic basis for responding to any art work but I will argue that interest and care for the character is essential for the movie or film to work completely.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

Roger Ebert wrote a famous review of The Goodbye Girl saying that he disliked the movie because of Marsha Mason's character. He said Paula was such a biotch that it never made any sense that a romance would develop. Further, he said she had no justification for being so unlikable. His point was faulty, but even if it wasn't, her supposed unlikeability should not be an argument against the film, as Marsha created a complex character whose shadings of grey are much more compelling than seeing a traditional female involuntarily melting to the charms of the stronger, dominating male.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Great piece, one which I thoroughly agree with. Statements about characters being too mean, boring and the like make me roll my eyes more often than not, particularly when you're not meant to find them innately sympathetic; human instead.

I think of last year's Damsels in Distress of the works of Noah Baumbach especially, where the filmmakers' aren't interested in merely displaying some nice, lovable people for your enjoyment. I will never understand why some people rag on Baumbach's characters as being too conceited; they're meant to be. Oy.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Nice article.

Although, I think you meant

"... that he would find himself the victim of some unspeakable yet appropriate accident, like getting SMASHED by the Green Goblin during a performance of Turn On The Dark."


ok bye.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterG.ShaQ

I think where I feel so much for Maya is on account of the slightest arc that manifests through the film. Her initial queasiness in the opening torture scene contrasted with her interaction with the 'jarheads' ('I didn't even want to use you guys, with your dip and your velcro and all your gear bullshit. I wanted to drop a bomb...')

It's what she gave up for what she felt she was made to do that made me feel so much empathy towards her. She HAS to be a hard-ass, fierce and bullish because that's the only way she can succeed. I think about the men and women who had to go against their baser feelings, their empathy, mirror neurons, and act without humanity for so long in a wartime setting that when the time finally comes to reclaim it, to hang up the uniform so to speak, they don't know how.

That's my feeling on the matter, anyway.

And re: the gender argument: I completely agree.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

@G.Shaq: HAH! Good pun.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeau:

Andrew K., I think revisiting her scenes with Jennifer Ehle at the hotel restaurant are key for the character. It really shows her blankness is really something that became her construct working with the CIA. Honestly, the blankness is something that is probably more on par for course for somebody who works in the CIA. I actually trust that this was something closely understood by Bigelow, Boal, and Chastain. But her scenes with Ehle show her character also trying to drop that blankness, though being prodded to do so, in trying to seem comfortable and okay with suddenly being asked what is under her than going on about her trying to find the courier. She is shown to really be uncomfortable with that with her little minor facial tics and trying to force a smile. It sounds odd to write this, but I would have made that her Oscar nomination clip than her yelling at Kyle Chandler.

And reading the script of ZDT myself, I feel like the script had clues over who Maya was in how she behaved, the script was even specific about her skin tone, and build (which made me better understand why Rooney Mara was also tied to the role). To me it makes complete sense that this was the person who did not even so much get a job promotion in the CIA for the manhunt (if we are to believe the Washington Post story). The character Maya is pretty precise to who she is on the page but that sells Chastain's performance short because she does bring 'the person who thinks she is the smartest person in the room' aspect from the beginning that grows into a near martyr complex that Beau has pointed out. In fact, thinking about it, the Jennifer Ehle character was really the only character that really changed in translation from the script to the film (and for the better of the movie as there seemed to be moments of objectification for her in certain moments of the movie never shown by Bigelow).

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I felt that the script of ZD30 let Chastain down a bit by not giving her a single human moment or a truly inhuman core. I understand they were trying to show her dedication to the task at the expense of all else (and Chastain did exactly that in her portrayal which was spot on as written and directed) but it left the character a little too one note and unrealistic for me and ultimately boring. Everyone has a weakness or point of interest outside of their task (Even the robot in Prometheus had some nuance.). All it would have taken is one line or look (the restaurant scene was the perfect place for this) but she never got it. This was obviously on purpose as Chastain was so consistent through the entire film (never adding it herself) but I wanted to hold some hope for her to move on once the search was over. But the ending left me not really caring. Thinking of her more as an instrument to go from one character/scene to the next rather than the character whose story I wanted to be involved with. I thought Jason Clarke was the performance of the film, but then he was given that moment of humanity.

As for characters whom we love to hate, I think it has more to do with the character wanting to be liked, wanting to be good, but just being heinous in the end, usually despite themselves. Its a very real quality. It fits everyone in Mad Men, Breaking Bad, the Following, and almost every film. A good actor will find something to love about the character despite their outward appearance of awfulness (read interviews with Jeremy Renner about playing Dahmer) or just carry a sense of goodness about the portrayal which resonates. Which brings me back to ZD30 and Maya. Chastain did exactly what the script and director wanted her to do which is admirable. But it left her to be not as interesting as everyone else in the film and Maya's dedication, cold pursuit and refusal to bend should have been the core point of interest. Its interesting that the TV ads for the dvd release don't even show the Maya character, but portray the film as an action/military film of all male characters, most of them minor in the final cut.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I actually am not sure that its the "likability" of the characters on Girls that has been the problem in the past few episodes. The characters have always been flawed, to use your word, but we love them anyway. I love Shoshanna despite the fact that she avoided taking responsibility for her own actions. I love Hannah even when she's been proven time and time again to be self-serving.

However, what I noticed in this week's episode and what gave me pause was a tonal shift in how those character flaws are approached. (SPOILERS) In the past few episodes, we've come to understand Adam better than before. Through his relationship with the most recent girl (Natalia, was it?), his interest in sexual domination has become more clear. I have no problem with that, mind you, but I do have a problem with how, through his return to Hannah, the show seems to be suggesting that he and Hannah are the perfect fit. Whereas in past episodes, characters' bad decisions have been handled matter-of-factly, this one was portrayed as the return of Prince Charming. Adam makes a triumphant march... er... run to her home, the romantic music swells, and he arrives to pick her up in his arms and hold her. But this should not be some heart-warming moment. Contrasting Hannah with Natalia, I get the impression that for Adam, Hannah is preferable to other girls because she's so insecure (or perhaps just desperate for "experiences" she can write about) that she'll do whatever he says. He loves that and Hannah is as happy as a clam about it all because she's Hannah.

Watching people make mistakes or behaving badly is no problem at all for me. Having those mistakes portrayed as something to be proud of or even unquestioned moments of triumph did not set well with me. I'm curious to see how the show handles this next...

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Henry, that's why I had no problem having distance from Maya. She was so gone. To me it just showed how dehumanizing this job was to everybody. She never got out. She never got the hint even when she could have had it easy with her office job at Langley. Reading that even some of the more 'Hollywood' actions (even the crying on the plane) of the character in the movie actually did happen showed me that there was a point being made for accuracy about who the character was about. Real Maya's still an active member, she was still angry at people for not taking her work seriously, and she is still mid-level who did not get a promotion because she did not look at the manhunt from a careerist perspective. She's not going to walk away and spryly look forward to the next day on the job. I actually do find the character fascinating but I feel like Chastain did add stuff, such as underlining the character's lack of self-reflection that on the page would not register as well as her just processing what she sees in her tapes, the interrogations, the monitors, etc. Beau notes there was a change in her confidence and command too and I agree. I think she works both as an ideal construct of a CIA operative and also a nightmare in a normal office setting on a personal and professional level. I think we forget that CIA people are not exactly the most normal people in the world. Good lord, there is a shot of her watching an air strike on a monitor as she makes social plans over the phone. Who would dedicate a whole career for the capture and kill of Bin Laden? Not a normal person and not necessarily somebody who wants to be loved or even somebody who really should be loved.

"Its interesting that the TV ads for the dvd release don't even show the Maya character, but portray the film as an action/military film of all male characters, most of them minor in the final cut."

That has all to do with what Sony's marketing department wanted to do to maximize in profit. Sony thought this could have no appeal to woman despite a female lead and female director because the UBL manhunt was always reported from the Seal Team 6 side, so of course, the alpha males were the focus.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

CMG, I see your points, but I had to wonder about her interaction with Jason's character who seemed to show some sympathy for Maya (which would indicate some humanity in her) even though I didn't really see a reason for him too other than being a softy which he was not (this was scripted). I really got his character and thought he did a terrific job of portraying a seriously sane man doing an horrible job while even being empathetic to the people he tortured, knowing when to get out and not letting himself be permanently damaged by the same. I never got his empathy as an interrogator trick as it usually is portrayed, but as real. Which would make him very effective in his job.

I would like to see what Mara would have made of Maya especially after seeing Side Effects.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

The Jason Clarke as Dan scenes when he tells her for her own good, for her career, to stop being in the interrogation rooms is that Maya does look at him as a little surprised and a little disappointed. He broke her in pretty much and to me that was their relationship- he even wanted her to come with him.

I actually am a little more cynical about his empathy. I thought he was playing off a script in those torture scenes and his early scenes were a test for Maya as much as it was to try to break the detainee. But I did think he burned out. I think there was a point of him just becoming cynical on the effectiveness crystallized in his last scene in saying his personal probability of who is in the compound is stated, that shocks Maya. His work was not working and his work was getting all of the wrong attention. He fits in well in DC, clean and shaven that it still feels a little uncomfortable seeing him that way in just how easily he settles into that role. I really love how he did become this other person but there is also a side where he tells 'The Wolf' he will take the fall for the detainee program if they ever get called in for investigation (it never happens and I think Dan takes that weight because he knows it will never happen) that still feels like he is playing the careerist game. I thought Jason Clarke was brilliant and to me it is the quieter moments than the showy scenes of him torturing a detainee that were the more interesting.

Mara is actually somebody I have trouble seeing in that she reads very young (and the fact she is 27) that the idea she would play this character who was on this case for a decade seems a little off. She looks way younger than everybody else in the cast. Chastain passes for different ages a lot easier. But I could see why Mara was looked at with the 'milky skin' yet underestimated 'sickly and weak' physicality to Maya were written in the script for the character (which I assume is what the real woman looks like).

March 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I think the upside of all the widespread bitching about shows and movies with "unlikable characters" is that it means writers, producers and, more importantly, financiers are finally bold enough to build stories around "unlikable characters". Especially female "unlikable characters". I say this with the full awareness that for a big chunk of the population the phrase "female character" is interchangable with "unlikable character".

I've been doing some scriptwriting lately and I've had some (very very minor) dealings with producers and financiers but even within my limited experience, it has been shocking to gauge how people from within the film and TV industries think. Case in point - The protagonist in one of my scripts turns self-destructive for about 20 minutes in the second half of the story. And even though none of the avid moviegoer who read the script ever had the slightest problem with this development, a couple of producers picked up on how the character turned 'unlikable' and treated this as an intrinsic flaw of the script rather than, you know, character development.
This is obviously anecdotal, but honestly, I cannot emphasise enough how terrified producers and financiers and often even scriptwriters are of characters being perceived as unlikable.
(Admittedly the reason they are terrified has everything to do with what mainstream audiences choose to watch and not to watch , which, if you are a producer, is a totally worthwhile concern, to say the least.)

All of this is to say that I currently worship at the altar of Lena Dunham. I liked the first season of Girls fine but this second season has been a revelation. I still think every single one of the protagonists is an irritating, immature idiot with a very limited view of the world and next to no self-awareness. But with generational insight, psychological dissection, carefully considered details and dialogue of such a high calibre, who the hell gives a crap that these characters are 'unlikable'.

March 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

It was honestly bound to happen in the TV/movie climate where the other sex followed in unlikable and complicated female characters. There are more female creators and TV writers more than ever. Yet there is still the fact many of the complicated characters have some sort of mania or affliction (Carrie Mathieson is clinically insane, Hannah Horvath has OCD, Amy Jellicoe had a nervous breakdown) with them that I do not see as often with the male anti-heroes- except maybe Tony Soprano who went to therapy.

I also really love Girls (not as much as Enlightened) and think Lena Dunham knows exactly what she is doing and her authorship seems lost on people who seem to conflate the character and the actress/creator. The finale seems lost on a few people, even I took it at face value immediately after it happened, but I really do think she has a distance to Hannah Horvath rather than using her as wish fulfillment that people complained about when she was with the characters played by Donald Glover and Patrick Wilson.

goran, I hope your script gets produced. If just because I also write scripts and to say my characters could be interpreted as unlikable at certain points in the story is an understatement. I feel like producers are a bit behind and eventually when they see a groundswell or a trend in directors and writers wanting honest, realistic characters, they will be more open to financing those stories.

March 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

goran: Or how doing an actual good (meaning treated both 1. Seriously and 2. Of an appropriate age) Robin is probably impossible right now for (currently) five reasons, those being 1. It could make Batman unlikable, 2. Unless Man of Steel flops hard, Nolan's going to be the DCCU shepherd, 3. It'll probably force the director to do a $50 million Batman film, 4. Is any artist who's going to be interested in Robin going to be interested in the legacy and acknowledging his role in the Teen Titans and 5. (tied into the previous) Are there any parents who would let their kids play the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths street punk rebel Jason Todd (Sorry, but there's no point in adapting the pre-crisis Jason Todd) or Damian Wayne, the child of Batman and Talia al Ghul.

March 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Ok, here is an email I just received 5 minutes ago from my agent about a new script I sent. It's for an arthouse relationship drama (with a minor crime subplot):

"Thanks, not sure, reads like a group of unlikeable characters ?

Is it comedic like a Tarantino film ?"

I rest my case.

March 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I say this with the full awareness that for a big chunk of the population the phrase "female character" is interchangable with "unlikable character".

goran this breaks my heart but it's probably true.

March 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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