There are certain female characters in certain movies that makes us all sparkly-eyed with love–and not for their cleavage, their tans, or their LiteBrite smiles. These aren’t your blonde bombshells and your Standard Hollywood Love Interests. No, these are the women in film that women adore–for their spunk, their sass, their I-just-DGAF attitudes. Sometimes they’re “hot,” and sometimes they’re “not,” but what they’ll always be is memorable. These are our Girl Crushes of the Week.
I don’t remember the first time I saw Girl, Interrupted, the 1999 psychological drama based on Susanna Kaysen’s memoir of the same name, but I do remember that it came, for me, in a time of great Winona Ryder obsession. This was around seventh grade, and while part of me definitely hankered for bedazzled Abercrombie jeans and a T-Mobile Sidekick like all the popular girls, there existed a small yet ardent flame inside me that ignited whenever I watched Winona onscreen. Her dark, emotive eyes, the secondhand clothes, the insistence on shunning both what was trendy and what would give you a tan–this was an actress who spoke to the weird girls, the shy ones, the artists. Like a vegetarian dog offered raw meat for a change, my soul immediately perked up for Winona and proceeded to go crazy. I was a goner from my first Winona film, Beetlejuice, a grand slam for fans of Tim Burton, but which was a little too oddball-horror for my emo-teen aesthetic.
Girl, Interrupted was supposed to be the Winona Ryder vehicle. It was supposed to catapult the actress, a then-A list celebrity who had dated Johnny Depp, to an Oscar nomination and win. Instead, the unexpected occurred. Just over fifteen minutes into the movie, Angelina Jolie swaggered in with a ratty shearling coat and a bad dye job. She proceed to steal the show, the Oscar, and of course, my brooding teenage heart.
In the film, Jolie plays Lisa Rowe, the sharp-tongued, wickedly charismatic foil to Ryder’s reserved and introspective Susanna. “We are very rare and we are mostly men,” she declares, after another patient reads Lisa’s diagnosis (her “diag-nonsense,” in the patients’ parlance) aloud.
“Lisa thinks she’s hot shit because she’s a sociopath,” another patient adds.
And indeed Lisa is a sociopath–derailing Susanna’s treatment and taking pleasure in the serious pain of the other women–but she’s also, yeah, pretty much the shit. The movie was supposed to be about Susanna overcoming her borderline personality disorder, or at least her accepting the fact that she’s sick (In an early scene, when confronted by a doctor that she had “chased a bottle of Aspirin with a bottle of vodka,” Susanna counters that she had “had a headache.”) However, unfortunately for Ryder, the viewer is drawn inexorably not to Susanna and her relatively mild and treatable issues, but to Lisa, with her maelstrom of psychological twistedness and her fantastic portrayal by Jolie.
Lisa is charming, sharp-witted. After a nurse brings a round of pills to each patient in the rec room, she wags her tongue at Susanna with a smirk, revealing her unswallowed meds. When a nurse reminds her that she needs her checkup, she strides on over, but not without commenting, “Can’t let you sit too long without poppin’ the hood, eh?” And when Susanna gets in a confrontation with the wife of Susanna’s older ex-lover (a lifeless plotline, seemingly tacked-on) Lisa warns the woman, “Some advice, okay? Just don’t point your fuckin’ finger at crazy people!”
In her best moods she sparkles, crackles on the screen. You can’t keep your eyes off of her–despite the sallow skin, the dead-as-straw hair and the mannish clothes she wears, she’s still Angelina Jolie, after all. She straddles a chair backward, confidently taking up space. She cheers up another patient by giving a hand puppet a squeaky-high voice. She flirts with the hospital staff. What a dream it would be, to be Lisa’s best friend, I thought, watching enrapt. She’d focus on you with such intensity, she’d make you laugh, she’d wake you up to take you adventures the middle of the night.
But even from the beginning, you get a sense that there’s something dangerous, even cruel about Lisa. She gives a fellow patient, a childhood burn victim, the moniker “Torch.” She taunts a patient, played by Britney Murphy, about her secretly enjoying her father’s “special” attention, and smirks when the girl subsequently hangs herself, commenting “Ah, what an idiot.” At the same news, Ryder’s Susanna, our essentially good-hearted protagonist, appropriately panics and bursts into tears. And it isn’t long before Susanna falls from Lisa’s good graces, too, and becomes the target of one of her incisive verbal assaults.
So why is it that I had such a girl crush on such a clearly fucked-up character? Maybe it’s because the character of Lisa–in the manner of someone who was clearly not a sociopath–was so honest, so raw. Yes, she seduces people in order to control them, and yes, she hurts their feelings, too. But there’s something in every viewer–and I would say, especially in the viewer who’s a highly impressionable teenage girl–that understands that impulse to be emotionally destructive. We realize, at the climax of the movie, that such destructiveness can be used as a defense against facing with one’s own pain. In a rare moment of self-reflection, Lisa yells at Susanna, her voice hoarse, her eyes wide, “You know, there’s too many buttons in the world, there’s too many buttons and they’re just begging to be pressed…and it makes me wonder…why doesn’t anyone ever press mine? Why am I so neglected?”
In the end, Lisa gets strapped down to a bed by the orderlies, and Susanna leaves the hospital to become a writer. The viewer is left with a greater knowledge of the psychological problems people can suffer from, as well as an embarrassingly huge crush on the violent, enigmatic Lisa.
Then again, it could just be because she’s played by Angelina Jolie. Although I wouldn’t say that Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft left such an indelible impression.