It's still 'no girls allowed' in Hollywood

December 20, 1993|By Bruce Westbrook | Bruce Westbrook,Houston Chronicle

Big girls don't cry? They do in Hollywood, where they rightly bemoan the quality and quantity of women's roles.

Yet little girls are more entitled to Tinseltown tears. Take it from Christina Ricci, show-stealing star of "Addams Family Values."

"Everyone talks about women getting snubbed, but what about little girls?" says Miss Ricci, 13. "We have no parts, either. It's all for little boys. And if it's a little girls' part, it's minuscule. It's the girlfriend waving 'hi,' and that's it."

Actually, Miss Ricci has less reason to rant than most. At least she's getting rare girl gigs.

Before her popular "Addams" turns as gloomy girl Wednesday, she debuted as Cher's daughter in "Mermaids." And next she will star in "Casper" for Steven Spielberg.

But elsewhere, films employ boys as if girls didn't exist. Often young males are exalted as though they were superhuman.

In "Free Willy," a boy tames and trains a killer whale. In "Into the West," two brothers rescue a magical horse. In "Josh and S.A.M.," two young brothers evade police and the military and drive a car to Canada. In both versions of "Home Alone," a boy bests adults at each turn.

In "Searching for Bobby Fischer," a boy becomes chess champion. In "Sidekicks," a boy becomes a karate champion. In "The Mighty Ducks," boys become hockey champions. In "Rookie of the Year," a boy becomes a baseball champion -- in the major leagues!

Boy! It seems boys can do anything. For them, positive reinforcement is just a ticket stub away.

Such wish-fulfilling fantasies can be fine in small doses; kids need encouragement. But that applies to all kids. And Hollywood's one-sided onslaught is a cop-out. For one thing, girls mature faster than boys. If any 12-year-old can tame a whale, it's likely to be a girl.

Films also insist that adults need boys -- desperately, it seems.

In "Last Action Hero," a boy becomes sidekick to Arnold Schwarzenegger's supercop. In "Cop and a Half," a boy becomes sidekick to Burt Reynolds' silly cop. In "A Perfect World," a boy becomes sidekick to Kevin Costner's crook-fleeing cops.

In "The Man Without a Face," a boy becomes best pal of tutor Mel Gibson. In "Forever Young," two boys rescue Mr. Gibson from a deep freeze. In "Dennis the Menace," a boy's innocent mischief softens a fussy neighbor. In "The Sandlot," boys find an ally in a former big-leaguer.

Films also inform us that boys set the course for entire families.

In "This Boy's Life," a boy's angst sparks turmoil in a fragmented clan. In "The Good Son," two boys tear a family apart. In "Lost in Yonkers," two brothers steer a mean grandma to warmth.

Even in "Sleepless in Seattle," a romance that many women adored, the sweet child of widower Tom Hanks was, of course, a boy.

Is there any other kind of kid?

Many such roles could be filled just as well by girls. But most were written by men. And the first rule of creative writing is: Write what you know.

Clearly, it will take more women working off-camera to put more girls in front of it. But it can be done.

Take the charming children's hit "The Secret Garden." It had two prominent boys but an even stronger girl's role. And it was written -- no surprise -- by a woman.

That film clicked, but when girls do go solo, they're often up a creek without a commercial paddle. Last summer's "House of Cards" and "Life With Mikey" both focused on young females, and both flopped.

That's not the fault of the girls, but of the material and marketing. Too, some boys may resist going to "girl movies" just as they resist reading "girl books," unlike their sisters, who go for a good story either way.

Certainly no one can deny that girls can be just as good as boys in pictures -- and as wildly successful.

Just ask Shirley Temple, Jodie Foster, Tatum O'Neal (who did Oscar-winning work at age 9 for "Paper Moon") or Reese Whitherspoon, the impressive young star of "The Man in the Moon," "A Far Off Place" and "Return to Lonesome Dove."

Or check out such little-seen but worthy recent films as "This is My Life," "Gas Food Lodging" or "Wild Horses Can't Be Broken."

All are exceptions in a Hollywood that's fixated on fellas, young or old.

"I really think there are enough parts for everyone," Miss Ricci says. "Nobody looks the same or acts the same. Everyone can do a different role in their own way."

The studio geniuses haven't figured that out yet. But then aside from Paramount chief Sherry Lansing, the studio geniuses are all gents.

Not so with ticket buyers, more than half of whom are female.

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