Culture / Film

Welcome to girl failure cinema

girl failure cinema

If you're anything like us, you've always felt a little inauthentic trying to relate to the 'girl boss' narrative that's been peddled to us over the last decade online; the clean girl aesthetics and fitspos of it all inspiring more anxiety than they do positive action in your life. For a lot of us, accepting imperfection and finding beauty in that layered and much more complicated narrative, is a more pragmatic goal, and one that can feel scarce at times on social media.

But one medium that has never shied from exploring girl failure is cinema – and it's a genre that we think deserves more attention. Not because it celebrates female rage or disappointment, but because it normalises it, and can make us feel less alone in our ever-so-natural shortcomings. Below we round up our favourite Girl Failure films to watch when you need a comfort movie to fill the void after a defective day. Below, films from the archives of some of our favourite female directors and actors.


1. Lady Bird (2017)

Watch if you like: Mother-daughter relationships, Timothée Chalamet playing bass, rebels without a cause.

If there's one name to know in the canon of Girl Failure cinema it's Greta GerwigLady Bird, her directorial debut, is a lush coming-of-age story that is equal parts tear-jerking and belly-laugh inducing. In it, we follow a bored Californian high school student whose small-town life and disapproving mother push to rebel and plan her escape to New York for college.


2. Shiva Baby (2020)

Watch if you like: Gay panic, horror movie scores, smothering relatives.

If Gerwig is the reigning dramatic monarch of the genre, then Emma Seligman is her up-and-comic comedic counterpart. Seligman's debut micro-indie film Shiva Baby quickly became a smash hit in no small part due to its endearing and relatable lead in Rachel Sennott.


3. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

Watch if you like: Awkward dinner parties, messy love triangles, Hugh Grant's hair.

The original dysfunctional movie lead can be found in Renée Zellweger's portrayal of the iconic Bridget Jones. The imperfect world of the sarcastic and chaotic Jones is somehow simultaneously charming and awkward, and her romantic encounters with Colin Firth and Hugh Grant only makes things messier.


4. Easy A (2010)

Watch if you like: Comedy gold, self-sabotaging, Stanley Tucci as a dad.

Emma Stone as the loveable high school student Olive Penderghast is pressured into lying about losing her virginity, but her notoriety soon gets out of hand as rumours spread across the school like wildfire, and a conservative teen church group led by Amanda Bynes decide she is their next project.


5. The Half of It (2020)

Watch if you like: Platonic love, coming-of-age kerfuffles, subversion.

Netflix's The Half of It follows a smart-but-shy Chinese-American high schooler Ellie Chu, who decides to help write a love letter for the school's jock to romance a girl she secretly is also in love with.


6. Little Women (2019)

Watch if you like: Sisterly bonds, confessing your love, soaking up cultural capital.

Another Gerwig film – surprise, surprise. Her retelling of the Louisa May Alcott classic is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, an ode to the women in our lives and the great joys, love, heartache and dysfunctional girlhood. As we follow the four March sisters through their young adulthood, we see vignettes of their life together as girls, and come to understand their unbreakable bonds.


7. The Worst Person In The World (2021)

Watch if you like: Being on the cusp of your 30s, fluctuating desires, making bad decisions.

Chronicling four years in the life of its Norwegian heroine, Julie, we find her as a young woman, struggling to navigate the throes of her love life and career path, and beginning to reevaluate who she really is. Set against a backdrop of modern-day Oslo, this film is a cocktail of one part rom-com and two parts existential dread – leading actress Renate Reinsve winning the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her revelatory and complex performance in the film.


8. Obvious Child (2014)

Watch if you like: Breakup tailspins, gallows humour, crying in the back of a taxi.

An unplanned pregnancy with her graduate school fling forces a mid-twenties newly unemployed comic Donna (ex-SNL cast member Jenny Slate) to confront her adulthood and independence for the first time.


9. Frances Ha (2012)

Watch if you like: Being an aimless twenty-something, friendship breakups, deep monologues.

A call to arms to throw yourself headlong into your dream, Frances Ha is about a young New Yorker (played by Greta Gerwig of course) who is abruptly broken up with, and dropped from her apprenticeship at a dance company. As her life tumbles into turmoil, her solitude is both her refuge and her treasure. It becomes an intimate portrait of the ambitions and frustrations of young creatives.


10. The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Watch if you like: Unrelenting awkwardness, hangovers, playing against tropes.

Hailee Steinfeld does an endearing job portraying 17-year-old student Nadine, whose battles with depression and loneliness post her father's death. Teetering between comedy and drama, the film follows Nadine and her best friend navigating the complexities of high school, dating and general adolescent debauchery.


11. Juno (2007)

Watch if you like: Michael Cera in short shorts, awkward high school relationships, dry humour.

A film about teen pregnancy that's anything but what you think it is. When faced with an unplanned pregnancy, titular Juno MacGuff decides to choose a failed rock star and his wife to adopt her unborn child. But as her relationship with the couple – and with her awkward high school boyfriend played by Michael Cera – are complicated as the pregnancy progresses, Juno is faced with decisions that may not just alter her life, but that of those around her.


12. Eighth Grade (2018)

Watch if you like: Cringing at your tween self, complicated relationships with social media.

Bo Burnham's first and only feature-length film sets the spotlight on 13-year-old Kayla, whose run-of-the-mill suburban adolescence is a painfully accurate depiction of that age; a time where social acceptance, self confidence and the internet are the holy trinity of priorities – and simultaneously at odds with each other.


13. Jinn (2018)

Watch if you like: Reckoning with religion, identity crises, Instagram celebrities.

Teenager, Summer, is prompted to abruptly reevaluate her identity when her mother – a popular meteorologist – decides to convert to Islam. Converting herself at her mother's behest, she struggles to figure out how religion fits into her life.


14. 20th Century Women (2016)

Watch if you like: Matrilineal love, slow burns, wearing Birkenstocks.

Set in late-70s Santa Barbara, California, this film follows a determined mid-50s single mother Dorothea as she raises her teenage son Jamie. In need of help, Dorothea enlists the aid of free-spirited artist Abbie – a boarder in their home – and their precocious young neighbour Julie to help with Jamie's upbringing among the love, freedom and cultural change of Southern California in 1979.


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