Picks of the Week is Women and Hollywood‘s newest resource. W&H writers are often asked for recommendations, so each week they’ll spotlight the women-driven and women-made projects—movies, series, VOD releases and more—that they’re most excited about. (Sign up for the Women and Hollywood newsletter at womenandhollywood.com to get each week’s picks delivered to your inbox!)
Series of the Week: “Mrs. Fletcher”
An adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s 2017 novel of the same name, HBO’s “Mrs. Fletcher” enlists an all-women directing team to tell the story of a woman’s sexual awakening.
Single mom Eve Fletcher (Kathryn Hahn) spends her days working at a local senior center and the majority of her spare time trying to connect to her entitled, ungrateful son Brendan (Jackson White). Now the teen is off to college, thanks to Eve packing all of his belongings for him, and his mom can’t help but wonder who she is besides his mom.
This 30-minute comedy sees Eve re-discovering herself and her sexuality. After dabbling in Internet pornography for the first time, Eve develops a hobby of watching it and pleasuring herself. She’s also digging deep at a personal essay class she’s taking at a local college, where she develops bonds with her trans teacher (Jen Richards) and a former classmate of her son (Owen Teague).
“Mrs. Fletcher” also follows Brendan to college, where the once-popular jock struggles to make friends and date. He also experiences something of a culture shock: suddenly it’s cool to be woke and intellectual, and bullying people isn’t an acceptable pastime. Through Brendan, the series delves into questions about consent, and explores how real-life sexual interactions can be adversely affected by sexual tastes and behaviors shaped by pornography.
Having read the book the show is based on, I was pleasantly surprised by how much more affecting it was to see Eve’s journey on the screen than read about it. It remains a rare joy to see a women protagonist over the age of 40 exploring, and acting on, her desires, even if she makes some morally questionable decisions along the way. (Laura Berger)
“Mrs. Fletcher” premieres October 27 on HBO.
Comedy Special of the Week: “Jenny Slate: Stage Fright“
Directed by Gillian Robespierre; Written by Jenny Slate
Jenny Slate is an utter delight. The best part of her new Netflix special, “Stage Fright,” is simply spending time with her, whether she’s onstage performing stand-up or having candid behind-the-scenes conversations with her tight-knit family and the project’s director, frequent collaborator Gillian Robespierre (“Landline,” “Obvious Child”).
Slate’s set deals with a wide range of topics—including the ghosts that haunted her childhood home, moving back into said home following her painful divorce and her experience dating in the #MeToo era. It’s refreshing to see a public figure so unguarded: Slate really speaks from the heart, and her vulnerabilities make her all the more relatable. In a particularly moving scene, Slate explains how her fears and anxieties about performing can interfere with her ability to enjoy stand-up.
Even when Slate’s jokes don’t land, it’s enjoyable just to exist in her orbit. “Stage Fright” is far from a typical, slick comedy special, and it’s all the better for it. Robespierre has confidence in Slate’s ability to entertain, whether she’s sitting on a couch in a living room with her sisters, exploring her grandmother’s closet or standing before a captivated audience. (LB)
“Jenny Slate: Stage Fright” is now streaming on Netflix.
Theatrical Documentary of the Week: Netizens
Written and Directed by Cynthia Lowen
Netizens is the scariest, most important film every woman needs to see. Cynthia Lowen’s doc offers a terrifying look at what happens when women are harassed, bullied and stalked on the Internet, and portrays their fight to remain safe.
Here’s the thing: It’s not only activists and prominent people this abuse happens to. It happens to regular women who break up with their boyfriend and he decides to have his revenge. Laws don’t protects women. Police don’t believe women. Yet danger lurks online as much as offline. Netizens is, unfortunately, so, so relevant to our world today. (Melissa Silverstein)
You can read Women and Hollywood’s interview with Cynthia Lowen and the Ms. Q&A with Cynthia Lowen.
Netizens opened in theaters this week. It is also now available on VOD.
HBO Documentary of the Week: Saudi Women’s Driving School
Directed by Erica Gornall
In June 2018, Saudi Arabia’s decades-long ban on women driving was officially lifted. Not only did this provide women greater freedom and mobility, it gave them the confidence to push for other women’s rights in the Muslim nation. Erica Gornall follows several Saudi women and explores how the right to drive has impacted their lives in the new HBO documentary Saudi Women’s Driving School.
As any newly-licensed teen will tell you, driving means independence, self-sufficiency and power, so it makes complete sense that the films’ protagonists—including a driving student, an Uber driver and a race car driver—believe that driving will lead to other advances for women.
Chief among them is the moderation, and eventual end, of Saudi Arabia’s guardianship law, which gives male family members authority over women’s lives. Recently, Saudi women became allowed to travel without their guardian’s permission, for example, but they still need it to marry.
Saudi Women’s Driving School maintains a tricky balance: it refuses to paternalize Saudi women or judge them from a smug Western perspective, but it doesn’t let Saudi Arabia’s misogyny off the hook, either. Lots of Saudi men believe women’s main, or only, purpose is to serve them and their household—but then, many American men think that, too.
Overall, the doc acknowledges that Saudi women have a long way to go before achieving true equality, yet it’s undoubtedly optimistic. These women are capable, smart and ambitious. The right to drive is just the beginning for them. (Rachel Montpelier)
Saudi Women’s Driving School premiered Thursday on HBO.