I'm in the middle of writing a story featuring some bitchy female lead characters, and it got me wondering - how bitchy is too bitchy?
It's important for the characters to be identifiable, so some darkness is okay. I think it makes the reader feel more comfortable reading about someone who has weaknesses and faults just like anybody else. That's why so many people find Superman so insufferable - physically and morally invincible? Snoresville!
But if the character is too mean and nasty, or cocky, or obnoxious, it gets harder (or just more annoying) to read a story about them. It's all subjective of course, and sometimes I'll surprise myself with which characters I will and won't get behind.
Last weekend I watched Young Adult, which I've been dying to see since I first heard about it. It seemed to have all my dreams come true in it -
- A plot featuring an ex-popular girl, disgusted by news of her old high school sweetheart having a baby and deciding to return to her hometown to wreck his life by winning him back
- Played by Charlize Theron, a fave of mine (especially when she's playing a bitch)
- Patton Oswalt
- Star Wars references featuring Patton Oswalt
At first I was worried I wouldn't like the movie because Theron's Mavis character would be too cringeworthy - forcibly throwing herself into too many awkward situations. I can only stand so many of those onscreen before I have to bury my face in a pillow. (I think I hit my threshhold watching Lisa Kudrow's awkward antics in The Comeback). Or like when anyone in any movie EVER starts going through someone's drawers looking for something while that person isn't home. I will want to rip my hair out. THEY'RE GOING TO WALK IN ON YOU DOING THAT!!
Mavis is unlikeable to a fault. At the beginning, we're introduced to her pathetic life, holed up in a filthy high-rise apartment with a little rat dog and reality TV on 24/7, desperately clinging to the last remnants of her bitchy powers as she meets with an old high school friend for coffee. Mavis clearly never learned how to take care of herself, care for anyone else, or properly grow up. So when she decides to go on her home-town rampage, it's comic because we know she can only get so far.
But can she? Part of what I loved about her character was that she managed to surprise me with her level of commitment to the identity she'd created for herself and her insistence to remain oblivious to the world changing around her. After all, at 37 in a dingy apartment with a rat dog she could still go out any night of the week and snag a reasonably attractive one night stand. She could still convince people who loathed her in high school to try to befriend her, even now. She shamelessly manipulated people who were just trying to show her a little kindness and didn't feel an ounce of guilt. And yet, as selfishly horrible and ridiculously, cruelly ignorant to anyone else's suffering as she was - you still kind of wanted to see her go stir things up and wreck all those hometown lives.
Or maybe that was just me?