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January 2, 2019 9:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for movies where the protagonist is a really unlikable woman making bad choices.

That's basically it.

Ideally I'm thinking something like A Simple Plan but instead of Bill Paxton it's like, I don't know, Holly Hunter. Men get to be unlikable and the protagonist at the same time. Women usually don't unless they're the Bad in a horror movie or they're a foil for the character the movie's actually about. I just want unapologetic movies about women who kind of suck.

Julianne Moore gets to play characters like this. Toni Collette sometimes does, too. But not really in movies that are ABOUT them.

Off the top of my head some movies that work are Citizen Ruth, Atonement, and Miss Sloane. I, Tonya is another that would work but it's about a real person and I'd say something like Monster wouldn't be appropriate here (biopics about serial killers is cheating just like horror movies is cheating). Lady Bird almost works but she and her mom both are shown having moments of kindness with others.

I'm really only looking for movies but if you have a can't miss TV show that would be absolutely perfect (I'm looking at you, Nurse Jackie) then that's good, too.
posted by phunniemee to Media & Arts (49 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:58 AM on January 2, 2019

Maybe Young Adult?
posted by vunder at 9:58 AM on January 2, 2019 [12 favorites]

Roger Ebert: "John Dahl's "The Last Seduction" knows how much we enjoy seeing a character work boldly outside the rules. It gives us a diabolical, evil woman, and goes the distance with her. We keep waiting for the movie to lose its nerve, and it never does: This woman is bad from beginning to end, she never reforms, she never compromises, and the movie doesn't tack on one of those contrived conclusions where the morals squad comes in and tidies up."
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:01 AM on January 2, 2019 [14 favorites]

It’s a TV show, but Fleabag fits this exactly.
posted by meronym at 10:04 AM on January 2, 2019 [17 favorites]

The Opposite of Sex is awesome for this.

Seconding The Last Seduction
posted by Mchelly at 10:10 AM on January 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

Sightseers. It's a low budget british black comedy about a couple taking their first roadtrip/cross country murder spree together. It's, uh, dark. And I think it's still on Hulu.

The trailer spoils some of the fun, so best to avoid before watching.
posted by mochapickle at 10:15 AM on January 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

The first idea that comes to mind is Frances McDormand’s performance as the stubborn, bitter, Olive Kitteridge.
posted by oxisos at 10:20 AM on January 2, 2019 [8 favorites]

The first idea that comes to mind is Frances McDormand’s performance

Oh gosh I totally left 3 Billboards off the list. She's perfect.
posted by phunniemee at 10:24 AM on January 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

I felt this way about Hereditary, which stars Toni Collette as the protagonist. Fair warning, though: this is an absolutely fucked up psychological horror movie. Her performance is stunning and unforgettable, though. She's not really the BAD person, so I'm not sure that counts as cheating?

I also feel this way about Kristin Wiig's character in Bridesmaids, though I understand that this is a controversial opinion.
posted by ancient star at 10:28 AM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

perhaps Can You Ever Forgive Me?
posted by jindc at 10:28 AM on January 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

A Netflix series to check out is Girlboss where the protagonist is seriously unlikable. Veep is another series where one can argue that the protagonist is unlikable. Also Robin Wright in House of Cards, for sure. Then you have all of AbFab!
posted by vivzan at 10:35 AM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

The first idea that comes to mind is Frances McDormand’s performance as the stubborn, bitter, Olive Kitteridge.

And the second should be Frances McDormand's performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. She's a bit more sympathetic in that one, but definitely not well-behaved.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:39 AM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Blue Jasmine (CW: Woody Allen and Louis C.K.)
posted by vunder at 10:42 AM on January 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Roseanne Barr in She-Devil
Meryl Steep in The Devil Wears Prada
Faye Dunaway in Network
And if you do include biopics... Chloe Webb's Nancy Spungen, in Sid and Nancy
posted by nantucket at 10:56 AM on January 2, 2019

It's not yet in wide release, but Destroyer starring Nicole Kidman probably fits this. Nicole Kidman's character is the protagonist, and she's your classic noir hero/anti-hero who's made bad choices and is at and/or on the way to rock bottom.
posted by yasaman at 10:56 AM on January 2, 2019

Maybe Monster with Charlize Theron would fit? Her backstory does make her somewhat sympathetic, if not exactly likeable.

Fair warning- it's tough to watch. Many years later there are scenes that I sometimes remember and that really bother me.
posted by vignettist at 11:11 AM on January 2, 2019

Margot at the Wedding is like this, and pretty funny.

Nthing Young Adult, which is one of my very favorite movies of the decade!
posted by cakelite at 11:17 AM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh man have you seen The Favourite yet?
posted by theodolite at 11:18 AM on January 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh man have you seen The Favourite yet?

No but I'm gonna and hearing someone talk about it the other day is what made me think to ask this question!
posted by phunniemee at 11:21 AM on January 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Oh, and check out Mother, Hitchcockian fun and under seen.
posted by cakelite at 11:22 AM on January 2, 2019

YES do watch The Favorite, it's extraordinary.

For a much lighter period movie, there's Love and Friendship, based on Jane Austen's novel, Lady Susan.
posted by prewar lemonade at 11:31 AM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Upside of Anger with Joan Allen. She's just so angry in it, but it's dealt with in a way you hardly ever see.
posted by kapers at 11:49 AM on January 2, 2019

The one where Professor McGonigal is an old lady living in a camper van parked on the erstwhile protagonist's street.

You know. The one with the thing.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:10 PM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

You said Toni Collette right in the post, but saying that she doesn't get to do it in movies that are about her suggests that possibly you might have missed Muriel's Wedding? I guess she's not totally consistently unlikable, but pretty close, and it's a terrific movie.
posted by LizardBreath at 12:50 PM on January 2, 2019

Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
posted by iamkimiam at 1:05 PM on January 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Destination Wedding (Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves) is a rom-com where both the protagonists are thoroughly unlikeable, and don't become more likeable as the kinda-sorta romance progresses.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:16 PM on January 2, 2019

Toni Collette in A Japanese Story

Everyone in The Florida Project

Shirley MacLaine in Bernie

Kristen Wiig in Welcome to Me
posted by fluttering hellfire at 1:31 PM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Possibly Morvern Callar? I haven't seen it in ages and only dimly remember the events of the film though.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:44 PM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ...but maybe she's more of a co-protagonist, and at any rate the bad decisions are mostly described rather than committed.
posted by rhizome at 2:03 PM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

If miniseries will do, hoo boy, My Brilliant Friend.

I don't know if Mattie in True Grit sucks, precisely, but she is extremely difficult to deal with and her quest for vengeance leaves a lot of collateral corpses in its wake.
posted by praemunire at 2:14 PM on January 2, 2019

Housebound! Ne'er do well Morgana O'Reilly is sentenced to house arrest in her mother's home, which is haunted, maybe.
posted by rodlymight at 3:11 PM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Heavenly Creatures, though the girls are very young (they murder the mother of one of them.) I was really surprised Peter Jackson could get into a young woman's mind that well, particularly in such distorted circumstances.

The MacGonagle one is The Lady in the Van.

It's an interesting question, and I'm interpreting it to exclude all those cautionary tales where the bad! woman gets killed at the end, so absolutely nothing along the lines of Fatal Attraction. Or Niagara. And she has to be really ... well, really Wrong. So Blue Angel doesn't count, and neither does Pandora's Box, because while the Woman is Bad! thing is going on in those there's no way a viewer doesn't completely idolise the protagonist of both films; and I think Basic Instinct is more or less the same. Why would you be more on Michael Douglas' side than on Sharon Stone's? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Same with Emile Jennings and Marlene Dietrich. And as for Louise Brooks, she's just a Goddess, to the extent of transcending the ending of Pandora's Box.

Women are evil sirens is a very much accepted trope of the first three quarters of film history but there's often a subtextual conflict in the idea as presented. Never mind, there's bound to be something fitting the Ask with Betty Davis in it. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Reversing polarity, All About Eve?

Other possibles: Sunset Boulevard. 101 Dalmations. Morvern Caller - are the decisions she makes that bad? Is she that dislikeable? Maybe Monika in Summer With Monica.
posted by glasseyes at 3:54 PM on January 2, 2019

Gone Girl - Rosamund Pike.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:18 PM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was thinking of Kathy Bates in Misery.
posted by bendy at 4:28 PM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Vanity Fair. (#OlderThanDickens) Thackeray slew Victorian Womanhood in the novel; the 2004 movie adaptation is fair to middling but imho doesn't really convey the pure evil that is Becky Sharp. There is a new adaptation but I haven't seen it to judge.

Barbara Stanwyck's character in Baby Face is mercenary. A lot of Pre Code women might fit what you're looking for, actually.

Also: Glenn Close's Mme de Mertreuil in Dangerous Liaisons. I think she gets a comeuppance at the end, but she's pretty deliciously unlikeable otherwise.
posted by basalganglia at 4:41 PM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Notes on a Scandal is a pretty good one of these.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:45 PM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

TV, but Jessica Jones and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would fit the bill.
posted by trillian at 5:18 PM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, and (TV again) Haters Back Off!
posted by trillian at 5:36 PM on January 2, 2019

Some more TV ideas: Damages, where Glenn Close's Patty Hewes is so manipulative, you feel dirty for even imagining liking her. And how about Sandra Oh as Eve in Killing Eve, who made so many bad decisions, I was yelling at the TV!
posted by oxisos at 5:49 PM on January 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Came to suggest Damages.

Jennifer Connelly's character in House of Sand and Fog? Although like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I'm not sure there's exactly a protagonist, per se. Heavenly Creatures yes definitely.

You've somewhat dismissed the horror thing but Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:32 PM on January 2, 2019

Movies like Misery and Sunset Blvd don’t count because they aren’t ABOUT those characters, they aren’t the protagonists. There are plenty of movies with a diabolical female villain, this question is more enticingly about movies where the main character is an unlikable woman.
posted by cakelite at 9:35 PM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I Shot Andy Warhol? It's based on a real person, though. I feel like Lili Taylor has to have some other movies that would also fit.
posted by Violet Hour at 12:01 AM on January 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think you may enjoy some films by John Cassavetes. Gloria, in particular. His films were not interested in depicting any character in any one way, so each of his films will have you feeling very differently about the protagonists from moment to moment. Anyway, Gloria is, in a way, a brave hero, but she is also a somewhat immoral, unwise, and unfriendly person and the film is equally interested in those parts of her. Opening Night is a twist on All About Eve, but it's about an alcoholic actress who is having a mystical midlife crisis, while ostensibly trying to just hit bottom. Robin Wright is an incredible fuckup in She's So Lovely, content warning for violence though.

Something Wild
Enough Said
Passion Fish
Abigail's Party
The Bad Seed is amazing until the tacked-on ending.

I hope some of these films meet your criteria. To be honest, my feeling about the women in these films could be summed up as "I don't like them, but I love them" because of the rarity you describe. Most of these films seem to want you to think little of the unlikeable women at their centers--that they are funny, or terrifying, or exemplary of a societal ill--and that is true in some cases. I love Cassavetes because I think he completely loved humans and that this comes through in each of his films.
posted by heatvision at 4:43 AM on January 3, 2019

I think Coraline fits the bill, except it's almost too good an example of what you're asking for. Even though Coraline is rude, mean, and self-centered to the point of being happy that a boy had his mouth sewn shut for her benefit, we still find ourselves thoroughly rooting for this "jerkwad girl" protagonist in the same way that we always root for a jerkwad boy hero: by completely ignoring her flaws and thinking of her as pure awesome.
posted by MiraK at 8:21 AM on January 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Joan Crawford (Crystal Allen) in The Women (1939), the original one. Maybe slightly sympathetic but gold-digging, lying, sneaking, cruel to children, and shallow. Not the primary protagonist but it's a leading role.
Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched) in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) ... "steely passive-aggressive tyrant who subtly intimidates her patients into doing her bidding"
Anne Baxter (Eve Harrington) in All About Eve (1950). Only sympathetic because it's shown how shallow and empty her ruthlessly selfish life is.
Judith Anderson (Mrs Danvers) in Rebecca (1940), housekeeper from hell. Not the protagonist but very important to the plot.
Barbara Stanwyk (Phyllis Dietrichson) in Double Indemnity (1944) ... wants her husband dead ... "her beauty is all lethal loveliness and acidic charm"
Cybill Shepherd (Jacy Farrow) in The Last Picture Show (1971) ... maybe a bit sympathetic ... She's stuck in a small town, "bored and needs attention, so she stirs up trouble," including losing her virginity to a mentally disabled man (so she can date someone else) and breaking up with him immediately after by phone
Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Rosemarie DeWitt in Men, Women & Children (2014) ... they play "unpalatable roles"
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Lisa Spinelli) in The Kindergarten Teacher (2018) ... mostly seen as unlikable though not everyone agrees
Isabelle Huppert (Michele Leblanc) in Elle (2016) ... "stars a fantastically icy Isabelle Huppert as a Paris video game entrepreneur: "'No American actress would take on such an amoral movie.' Michele is the confounding essence of a difficult protagonist."

And this book sounds exactly like the film you're seeking: Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine: "Features a narrator who is unlikable in curious ways. She is utterly self-obsessed, acts without considering consequences, and always makes choices that will benefit herself over others. She is intensely preoccupied with the book Treasure Island, and sets out to live her life by the book's core values: BOLDNESS, RESOLUTION, INDEPENDENCE, and HORN-BLOWING. As she careens from one self-created disaster to another, the narrator is unrepentant. There is no redemption or lesson learned from misdeeds."
posted by mmw at 9:15 AM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Rachel Getting Married

Impromptu (sorta) (Depends on your thoughts of Judy Davis's portrayal of George Sand)

High Tide

Judy Davis kinda cornered this role for a while in the '80s.
posted by goofyfoot at 9:03 PM on January 4, 2019

Jane Greer in Out of the Past
posted by iamkimiam at 10:39 PM on January 4, 2019

Seconding The Florida Project, where you understand that this mother is in a difficult position, but like every choice she makes you’re helplessly watching going “No, no, no....”
posted by blueberry at 3:30 AM on February 18, 2019

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