I Could Never Be Your Woman: Amy Heckerling’s Underappreciated Feminist Masterpiece
Every so often, an older film rears its head which speaks so directly to contemporary thinking and to current social movements, that it's hard to imagine that it was released ten years ago. At a time where feminism had yet to be bought into the mainstream culture, where the #TimesUp and #MeToo were a pipe dream - 2007 was, after all, only one year post the birth of Twitter, at which point in time hashtags were still widely used to infer numbers rather than trending topics.
The film I am talking about is, of course, Amy Heckerling’s I Could Never Be Your Woman. Which I’m sure comes as a surprise, as the film failed to match the dizzying heights of Heckerling’s most famous and loved film Clueless or even her first feature, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It’s possible that you may not have even heard of Heckerling’s 2007 feature, because unlike its predecessors - I Could Never Be Your Woman was never given a theatrical release. In addition to Heckerling's difficulties in finding financing for the film due to the protagonist being a woman over the age of 40, IMG also pulled out of the theatrical distribution upon discovering that lead actress Michelle Pfeiffer had been offered a share of the revenue upon release. Pfeiffer had been offered this as a consolation for having her salary cut - a direct result of the lack of funding in the first place.
Which is, all in all, quite ironic considering the narrative of the film that revolves around an older (if we are buying into Hollywood’s ageing systems) woman, working in the industry, attempting not to be usurped by her younger contemporaries. At one point, Rosie (Pfeiffer) even has her show cancelled by the network. This news is broken to her by an executive explaining that "older women are the least desirable demographic".
In what seems to be a case of art imitating life (or is it the other way round) both the fictional Rosie and director Heckerling present a worryingly common situation that female directors, writers and producers find themselves in - a lot of talent and no-one willing to finance it. Sound familiar? Just this week, at the 90th Academy Awards, Frances McDormand made an impassioned plea for producers and executives to invite women into their offices because, guess what, we all have stories we want to tell.
In addition to dealing with the crisis of growing older whilst simultaneously struggling to keep her TV show afloat, Rosie also ends up falling in love with a younger man. Paul Rudd’s Adam - an actor who is set to be the new star of her show,‘You Go Girl’ - is around ten years younger than Rosie and their affair sets Rosie’s worries about getting older into full meltdown. On trying to break things off with Adam she even tells him “in our society, young outranks old”. Though Adam insists he doesn’t see their age difference as an issue, it is Rosie’s constant inner turmoil (and multiple conversations with Mother Nature) which sends her paranoia skyrocketing. She cannot understand why Adam is interested in her, particularly when he is surrounded by younger actresses on set every day. When the two of them frequent a nightclub together, Rosie’s insecurities around her age become painfully obvious - though the age gap is almost certainly not noticeable to anyone around them.
One of the overarching themes within Heckerling’s film, in direct parallels with Rosie’s frustration with the industry itself, is the idea of growing older. Mother Nature is a literal character within the film, appearing often to remind Rosie that it’s time for her to pass over the mantel to her younger cohorts, warning her not to get involved with Adam as she is "too old" for him. Mother Nature, it seems, controls the lives of the women and girls within I Could Never Be Your Woman. Not only is Rosie’s life determined by the ghostly figure, so is her daughter's. Izzie, played by Saoirse Ronan, gets her period towards the beginning of the film. "Let the games begin", Izzie responds to her mother welcoming her to womanhood. Izzie goes from playing with her Barbie dolls to obsessing over Dylan, a seemingly very boring boy from her school. Rosie can’t seem to let go of her daughter as a young girl instead of a young woman and is perpetually disturbed by Izzie’s preference of boys to schoolwork or dolls.
The irony of course is that Rosie herself becomes obsessive over Adam, doing everything that she can to write him more lines in the show. As much as Rosie is concerned for her daughter being independent, strong and intelligent, she doesn’t force herself to be the confident showrunner she really is.
It turns out, though, that Izzie and the next generation have got it covered. Which is perhaps a lesson well learnt. The film boasts one of the greatest feminist renditions of Alanis Morissette's ‘Ironic’. Performed by Izzie at her school talent show, she substitutes Morissette's lyrics for something a little more subversive. ‘Isn’t It Moronic’ features classic lines such as: “young girl, wants to be a big name / In movies they must all be the same / She won't need to sing or to act /Just lose all of her body fat”. As Izzie belts it out for the whole world to hear, it dawns on Rosie that the younger generations are probably going to be alright. Instead of taking on her mother’s anxieties about age, or paying attention to the cosmetic surgery adverts - Izzie identifies that it’s all … well, slightly moronic.
Ronan and Pfeiffer are charming in their roles as mother and daughter, playing off each other's lines with an authenticity that matches (and in my opinion, surpasses) The Gilmore Girls. Positive mother-daughter relationships are relatively rare onscreen, especially ones which feature both women going through their own individual issues. Rosie and Izzie’s strength - and perhaps the reason why Izzie is prepared for the world of womanhood which lays ahead of her - is because of their close relationship. The two confide in each other, are honest with each other and ultimately, support each other.
Not only is I Could Never Be Your Woman a tongue-in-cheek look at growing up, womanhood and an industry which prides itself on good looks over everything else - it also features cameo appearances from a very tanned Graham Norton, a much younger David Mitchell and is guaranteed to transport you back to the mid 90s in a whirlwind of dodgy fashion. It’s especially great if you’d like to see Michelle Pfeiffer take down Mackenzie Crook playing a sleazy executive producer. Honestly, it’s worth it for those thirty seconds alone. Treat yourself to a re-watch (or a first time watch, you lucky thing) this International Women's Day - you won’t regret it.