263 Best Women Stories to Watch (Page 17)

Staff & contributors

Gender representation in film is severely lacking. In any year, the top 250 movies have less than 5% of cinematographers, 10% of directors, and 20% of writers who are women (Study of Women in Television and Film).

Ultimately, this means that women’s stories get told less where it matters: in movies that get the most exposure. The goal of this section is to shine a light on women’s stories in movies that are available on popular streaming services.

With the tried-and-tested music and lyrics of Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray, this film adaptation of the Color Purple musical was practically guaranteed to have power in its key moments. And with a cast that includes tremendous vocalists like Fantasia Barrino and Danielle Brooks (both of whom had previously played their respective characters on stage), the film's most important sections possess an energy and soul that allow its protagonist to dream of something beyond her dire personal circumstances. However, after a while, this movie begins to feel like it's only ever made up of isolated scenes without the proper build-up nor the right pacing to earn the movement from one episodic moment to the next. Even with the dynamite chemistry between cast and score, the film's odd staging and blocking constantly get in the way of what should be something incredibly emotional.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Aba Arthur, Adetinpo Thomas, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Charles Green, Chase Steven Anderson, Ciara, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, Danielle Brooks, David Alan Grier, David Vaughn, Deon Cole, Elizabeth Marvel, Emana Rachelle, Fantasia Barrino, H.E.R., Halle Bailey, Jamaal Avery Jr., Jeffrey Marcus, John L. Adams, Jon Batiste, L. Warren Young, Louis Gossett Jr., MaCai Arrington Griffin, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, Stephen Hill, Tamela Mann, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence J. Smith, Tiffany Elle Burgess, Whoopi Goldberg

Director: Blitz Bazawule

Rating: PG-13

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The Dutch Netflix film Happy Ending means well, but its insistence on the heterosexual relationship limits the film’s potential. Centered on the concept of the orgasm gap, it’s understandable to see the main character Luna have difficulty in expressing this to her partner Mink, however, the film doesn’t fully explore their relationship, or even the reasons behind Luna’s hesitation. Because of this, it’s hard to root for their relationship, especially when the third of their threesome Eve proves to be able to rise to the challenge of Luna’s orgasm. Without spoiling too much, the end result feels as unsatisfying as the main relationship.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Claire Bender, Gaite Jansen, Joy Delima, Martijn Lakemeier, Sidar Toksöz, Sinem Kavus

Director: Joosje Duk

Sometimes, to get to know one’s self, one has to get out of their usual life. This is what makes the idea of travel so alluring, and Dhak Dhak is one such movie that portrays that idea, with some twists. Instead of a car, four women ride with motorcycles, and instead of flat plains, the leads go through one of the highest mountain passes in the world. That being said, we don’t really get to know the women beyond the common issues that women in India go through. The cast tries to make the best of it, and Sanjana Sanghi, Dia Mirza, Fatima Sana Shaikh, and Ratna Pathak Shah portray their characters excellently, but instead of learning who they are, we mostly receive more product placement instead. It’s still a pleasant ride, though Dhak Dhak takes predictable and well-trodden routes in their approach.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Dia Mirza, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Kallirroi Tziafeta, Nishank Verma, Poonam Gurung, Ratna Pathak Shah, Sanjana Sanghi

Director: Tarun Dudeja

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With an urgent subject and plenty of that trademark Netflix polish, Bhakshak is nothing if not watchable and consistently engaging. However, for all of its motivated performances and high production values, there actually doesn't seem to be much that happens in the film by way of investigation or character development. Much of the plot seems to progress solely on inertia, or through conversations that only ever repeat the film's themes. And with every new, intense scene of young girls being threatened or hurt at the hands of abusive men, it becomes harder to understand what these scenes are trying to tell us, especially when they keep the victims as voiceless as they are from the beginning.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Aditya Srivastava, Bhumi Pednekar, Chittaranjan Tripathy, Murari Kumar, Pubali Sanyal, Sai Tamhankar, Sanjay Mishra, Surya Sharma, Tanisha Mehta, Umesh Shukla, Vibha Chibber

Director: Pulkit

Rating: R

Lighthearted, inspirational, and warm, True Spirit is the real life story of how the young Jessica Watson circumnavigated the world. Through YouTube-esque vlogs and scribbled out title cards, the film follows the real-life journey, alternating between the sailor with the situation back home, as her mentor and family keep track of her current progress. Inspired by the book, the film fairly sticks to the facts written in her travelogue, but True Spirit mostly plays out the same way a Disney Channel Original Movie would, with its young protagonist setting out for a whimsical adventure, just for the sake of it. It makes for a beautiful film with stunning views and heartwarming messages about perseverance, but it’s more an easy cruise than a daring adventure, as it plays out without any courage in its approach.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, History

Actor: Alice Tate, Alyla Browne, Anna Paquin, Bridget Webb, Chris Hillier, Cliff Curtis, James McGrady, Jessica Watson, Joey Vieira, Josephine Flynn, Josh Lawson, Ling Cooper Tang, Molly Belle Wright, Nikhil Singh, Shanyn Asmar, Stacy Clausen, Teagan Croft, Todd Lasance, Vivien Turner

Director: Sarah Spillane

Rating: PG

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With a lack of films on female sexuality, Thank You for Coming feels refreshing. Kanika Kapoor seeks out sexual fulfillment as much as she seeks an emotional connection, due to the fairytale promises given to many women from girlhood. She hopes for both, knowing that if she doesn’t go through it the right way, she’ll be looked down upon the same way her single mother was. The sex comedy is reminiscent of Mamma Mia, but instead of a child figuring out who of her potential three dads is hers through ABBA songs, it’s Kanika figuring out who from her past and present lovers gave her an orgasm, with excellent, though slightly disconnected tracks. The playful approach is fun and exciting, but this approach stops halfway through, and certain plot aspects and the choice of a male director detracts from the feminist, sex-positive message it wants to portray.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Anil Kapoor, Ayesha Raza Mishra, Bhumi Pednekar, Dolly Ahluwalia, Dolly Singh, Karan Kundra, Kusha Kapila, Natasha Rastogi, Pradhuman Singh, Shehnaaz Gill, Shibani Bedi, Sushant Divgikar

Director: Karan Boolani

Taylor Tomlinson clearly has more of a writer's approach to stand-up than a performer's, for better or worse. On the one hand, every word in this special feels considered (even those that she has to come up with on the spot during audience interactions), with a cadence meant to draw you towards the writing itself. On the other hand, this means that her comedy can come off too mannered—more knowingly clever than spontaneously funny. It certainly helps that Tomlinson has the energy to commit to her jokes even if they aren't particularly interesting, though; she has a clear vision for how her routine should flow, and that's worth respecting.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Taylor Tomlinson

Director: Kristian Mercado Figueroa

Rating: R

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Sukhee depicts the struggles specific to adult women – the way women are encouraged to sacrifice their identity for the people that they love and to meet certain expectations that feel impossible or contradictory. This isn’t a common topic in film, but it has been portrayed before, with the likes of English Vinglish and Eat, Pray, Love. Sukhee does some things differently, with a fun girl’s out Delhi trip reminiscing over her past and reconnecting with her former self. However, the film loses its way in the second half. With plot elements that feel haphazardly thrown in, including a randomly placed horse race, the film never fully resolves the main issue at the core of the film – the lack of respect towards the housewife role, as well as the way the family needs better stress management skills.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Amit Sadh, Chaitannya Choudhry, Dilnaz Irani, Kiran Kumar, Kusha Kapila, Maahi Jain, Shilpa Shetty Kundra, Vinod Nagpal

Director: Sonal Joshi

Centered on a unique marriage, Satyaprem Ki Katha could have reinvented the romance genre with its depiction of women’s trauma. The film does care about the issue, as it sides with the victim in this regard, and there’s a certain sweetness in the relationship being portrayed. Kiara Advani’s performance feels believable and she clearly makes the best of her existing scenes. However, the film is too afraid to be critical of the men in this film, especially as it’s too concerned with Sattu as a savior. On top of this, it relies too much on the standard Indian song-and-dance, which, while spectacular, takes away too much time from the issue at hand. Because of this, Satyaprem Ki Katha feels like a missed opportunity.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anuradha Patel, Gajraj Rao, Kartik Aaryan, Kiara Advani, Nirmiti Sawant, Rajpal Yadav, Shikha Talsania, Siddharth Randeria, Supriya Pathak

Director: Sameer Vidwans

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While the film attempts to depict teenage sexuality, Dear David misses the mark due to certain plot points. At the heart of the film, Dear David is all about expression – that teenagers actively seek for ways to explore their sexuality like fanfiction, photos, and clothing. In taking on this premise, the hope for these kids would be to be able to to express these feelings through safe and constructive spaces. But because the film only presents Laras’ work as porn without plot, her relationship with David doesn’t feel like it stems from genuine affection. David isn’t characterized as popular enough for everyone to have a good concept of him, to have a positive canon narrative about him, and so, as Laras’ work spreads, it’s only his objectified self people have in mind. Her creative work comes across as some form of sexual harassment, rather than innocent expression.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Agnes Naomi, Caitlin North Lewis, Chanceline Ebel, Claudy Putri, Emir Mahira, Frans Nicholas, Izabel Jahja, Jenny Zhang, Lutesha, Natalius Chendana, Palestina Irtiza, Restu Sinaga, Ricky Saldan, Shenina Cinnamon

Director: Lucky Kuswandi

Air Mata di Ujung Sajadah tugs at the heartstrings because it recognizes the pain of losing one’s child, whether that be to elopement, death, or to their biological parent. This, with a stirring score, and the tears of Titi Kamal and Citra Kirana, makes Aqilla and Yumna easy to root for, as they try to settle who would best be Baskara’s mother. It’s not an easy decision, and the film thankfully refrains from turning either woman to be an antagonist. However, all the sorrow, pain, and suffering hinges on Halimah’s decision, that, in the first place, shouldn’t have been possible. As the film plays out into its inevitable conclusion, the journey there is heartwarming, maybe even tearjerking, but it doesn’t feel as satisfying as it could have been if Halimah dealt with the consequences of her actions.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Citra Kirana, Fedi Nuril, Krisjiana Baharudin, Muhammad Faqih Alaydrus, Titi Kamal

Director: Key Mangunsong

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In a world when women are sexualized and objectified, but also judged and excluded under the guise of religious righteousness, Adire seeks a middle ground. It dares to explore how women’s beauty can be a force for good, rather than a source of shame, even within the religion that traditionally excludes women from its leadership. That being said, Adire focuses on this to the detriment of all other ideas loosely stitched to the narrative, such as the cultural heritage in using the adire fabric for modern lingerie, sex and desire as an impetus for art, and the need for intimacy, not just sex, in relationships. Adire has the ideas, but not the execution, especially when it loses its way in the second half of the film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Femi Branch, Funlola Aofiyebi, Kehinde Bankole, Mike Afolarin, Yvonne Jegede

Director: Adeoluwa Owu

In terms of the quality of the material delivered in Son I Never Had, this special is really just okay at best. Heather McMahan has charisma and personality, but she has a tendency to run directly into the set-ups for her jokes, without the kind of build-up between segments that would make the whole hour flow better. And the comedy here is pretty standard, lightly raunchy fare that's often amusing but never really cuts deep into the various topics McMahan brings up. Where she's really successful, instead, is in the way she uses humor to contrast the lingering but gentle grief she feels over her father's passing. Son I Never Had, in its own roundabout way, becomes a sort of extended eulogy, emphasizing how our loved ones remain with us in our every memory.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Heather McMahan

Director: Jen Zaborowski

Rating: R

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Although the sequencing of the four segments makes sense, the overall result does not land in this new installment of the Lust Stories franchise. It shines with Konkona Sensharma's 'Mirror,' an unexpected take on voyeurism and camaraderie between women. It loses touch with Sujoy Ghosh's 'Sex with Ex,' which sticks out with a weak storyline and questionable use of a green screen. The bracketing stories are engaging if only for the stark difference in tone and conclusion. They round out the film well enough, allowing for an entertaining experience but a lukewarm memory after the credits roll. 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amruta Subhash, Angad Bedi, Anushka Kaushik, Hemant Kher, Jugal Hansraj, Kajol, Kanupriya Pandit, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kumud Mishra, Mrunal Thakur, Mukti Mohan, Neena Gupta, Tamannaah Bhatia, Tarun Khanna, Tillotama Shome, Vibha Chibber, Vijay Varma

Director: Amit Sharma, Konkona Sen Sharma, R. Balki, Sujoy Ghosh

Rating: R

Hallmark is the last place you'd expect to find a low-budget movie that decries excessive automation and advocates for local businesses, but for some reason this is the setting against which Love & Jane's story is told. And the movie doesn't come across as insincere either, as it uses a familiar romcom template to actually encourage its protagonist to grow beyond the romance novels she loves and to engage with her own experiences and emotions. Unfortunately, the rest of the film feels oddly obligatory, including a bland love interest and his half-baked chemistry with the heroine, and the inclusion of Jane Austen herself, who really has nothing to do here.

Genre: Comedy, Romance, TV Movie

Actor: Aadila Dosani, Alison Sweeney, Benjamin Ayres, Corina Bizim, Debbie Podowski, Eduardo Britto, John Prowse, Kehli O'Byrne, Kendra Anderson, Lynn Whyte, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Nevin Burkholder, Vivin Oommen, William Vaughan

Director: David Weaver

Rating: G

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