Wingwomen: Redefining Femininity in Action Movies

ChillJane, November 9 2023

CJ Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

According to Mélanie Laurent in an interview from Variety, when Netflix invested in "Wingwomen", which she directs and stars in, they were expecting a film that was ambitious in mise-en-scène with significant action sequences while retaining the French style. Obviously, Mélanie Laurent gives far more. She makes an action movie with an all-female cast and redefines femininity in action movies.

Starring Laurent, Adèle Exarchopoulo and Manon Bresch, "Wingwomen" tells the story of a highly skilled female thief and her partner and bestie who decide to turn over a new leaf. However, their decision is strongly opposed by the Godmother (played by Isabelle Adjiani) of their organization. In their last mission, they recruit a female race car driver to assist in their mission, and the three of them decide to escape the organization together to gain freedom.

Mélanie Laurent, Adèle Exarchopoulo and Manon Bresch

Action movies have always been exclusive to men, even those with female protagonists fall into the male creator's lust and fantasy of women. Even now, in many female killer movies (they are usually shot by male directors), the images of female killers are invariably strong, cold, ruthless, or extremely suppressed of their emotions. In short, they are not like real people but emotionless models walking down the runway, such as Jennifer Lawrence in "Red Sparrow" (2018), Sasha Luss in "Anna" (2019), and Angelina Jolie's well-known classic girl-beating image. Extreme ones include Saoirse Ronan in "Hanna" twelve years ago, in which she played a 15-year-old killer girl who took an unworldly approach and was so cold that people often thought she suffered from some kind of personality or emotional disorder.

But in "Wingwomen", the three heroines are really close to our lives. They are real women who love food, shopping, using tampons, constantly falling in love with the wrong scumbag, or going through mood swings during pregnancy...They may have been forced into this dangerous industry, but they talk and laugh, rarely displaying bitterness and hatred.

In the opening scene of the movie, it’s really a surprise that the characters played by Laurent and Adèle should be discussing food while on the run! Wearing wing-like gliding suits, they fly down high mountains, overlooking the entire earth below them - a grand and thrilling scene commonly seen in action movies which should have been accompanied by heroic words in male actors has now been replaced by small daily talking about food. This moment is the dissolution of the grand narrative typical in male action movies by femininity inclining to daily and delicate issues.

Another humorous dissolution comes from Laurent and Adèle squatting side by side on the vast grass, peeing! Think about it, how many times in the history of movies have men peed standing side by side to show some kind of masculinity and humor? Wingwomen parodies and deconstructs these moments.

They are dressed in casual clothes, just like in the picture above.

The female trio setting and light comedy vibe of “Wingwomen” can easily remind us of “Charlie’s Angels” (2000), but in fact they differ very much from each other, which is evident enough in the costume designs. "Charlie's Angels" once made female audiences feel excited that women are for once taking charge of their own autonomy, but watching it again in 2023, it is obviously outdated in some aspects. In comparison, "Wingwomen" allows female viewers to see that female killers don't have to wear all kinds of imaginative tight clothing to show off their bodies as if they are participating in a drag show. They have more possibilities than capitulating to the male gaze.

If a former female killer ever decides to take action on her own violition , her motivations would most likely be for her children, husband, lover... In short, she rarely did it for herself. Now, Adèle's Alex shows us that she can avenge a rabbit she raised. God knows how sad I was when I saw that little rabbit being shot to death! My pain is perfectly acted out by Adèle. While being vulnerable and shedding tears, she vows to avenge her rabbit. Perhaps it is a moment that only female viewers could relate to. It was also the moment I realized that the action genre has been dominated by masculinity for far too long.

As any show goes, "Wingwomen" also faces some doubts from people. It is accused of being a stew of feminazi ideas including some popular ones such as "lesbianism", "decently dressed women beating naked men", "you can have children but you don't have to have a man", etc., which offends certain male audiences. Some criticize it is not a qualified action movie in terms of narrative and action scenes. But what does it mean to be qualified? If the criterion is to return to the conventions of patriarchal narratives, this accusation is actually a compliment. At least, as a female viewer, I am very happy and feels refreshed after watching it. I saw that women in action movies can be so close to reality. Otherwise, I would never know that they can be presented in this way.

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