I've never considered the term "bitch" to be a derogatory one. To me, most of the women who are given this label are really just strong women who are refusing to cave to the preconceived notions of what women should act like. At least, that's what the minimal portion of feminism within me says. The other portion of me simply doesn't care if a woman is a bitch for no good reason other than to turn in a great performance.
Oh Yay! I've Been Crowned Queen of the Bitches!
Now, a bitch is going to stand out because that's what a bitch does. There are some supreme examples of legendary bitch roles, from the phenomenal Faye Dunaway in MOMMY DEAREST, to Bette Davis in... well, just about anything she did, to Meryl Streep in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. But being that the label of bitch isn't just reserved for the more obvious examples, I thought I'd examine some other actresses' work to find some bitchy diamonds in the rough.
These are my Top Ten favorite overlooked bitch performances from the last 25 years. I decided to not go further back than that based on the fact that women were largely caricatures and relegated to playing either the good girl or the bitch. Since the women of my mother's generation came along and started *ahem* bitching about unfair representation in the media, it's been more fun to ferret out the good actresses who know how to straddle the line or are brave enough to break current lines of reasoning.
So, here is my salute to them. A place in my minimally read column. No trophy, no glory. I hope they don't get pissed at me.
10) Michelle Pheiffer in WHITE OLEANDER (2002)
Michelle Pheiffer has been trying to toughen up her act from the very beginning, thinking that she could get away with being the bad girl even though her face is a placid little pool enshrouded in hair that looks like it was spun from heaven. She didn't manage to get it right until this movie, playing the cold and emotionally distant woman who manages to control her teenage daughter even from the prison cell she sits in for the calculated poisoning murder of her boyfriend.
I rank this performance of hers as one of my favorites in the history of her work. This was the role that allowed her to use her good looks as a facet of her evil nature. Her thin lips pressed into a tight grimace, her voice low and steady and you'd be willing to do anything she said as well. Plus that whole hot bitch behind bars fantasy that men have is indulged as well.
9) Lauren Hutton in ONCE BITTEN (1985)
She started out as being a fresh-faced teen model during the 1960's and began to lose her looks according to the industry by the time the 80's rolled around. A whopping 42 years old when this movie was released, you'd never know it by the way that she prances around in tight and revealing clothing, playing a femme fatal vampire many hundred years older than her off-screen age.
While this is a divinely stupid comedy, the power that Hutton possesses in getting a young Jim Carrey to abide to her charms so that she can suck the virginal life blood from him and maintain her youthful appearance is magnetic. Holding her own against a younger actress in the pivotal dance/fight scene, you can just call her the bitch of the night and I think she'd be just fine with that.
Although.... I always did find the most amusing part to be the fact that she was a gapped tooth vampire.
8) Meryl Streep in SHE-DEVIL (1989)
This was the movie that was supposed to get Rosanne Barr, err... Arnold, err... that fat comedienne who had a popular television show back in the late '80's and early '90's... a foothold in films. There were problems with that design however, first the fact that the only funny fat movie stars are male (or black if they're female) and second that you don't cast an actress as good as Meryl Streep and not expect to get shown up.
Playing a romance novelist who seduces a family man away from his beast of a wife, Streep keeps her voice low and her mannerisms subdued. Other than the idea that she might have been rehearsing for her more recognizable bitch role
mentioned above, I questioned why she would have agreed to be in this flick. It helps that she looks to be having a blast, not really caring that she was a home-wrecker, liar and cheat. Plus, those frilly 80's fashions she prances around in are pure perfection in and of themselves.
With Hair Like That, You Just KNOW He's a Bitch!
7) Zooey Deschanel in THE GOOD GIRL (2002)
The blank expression on her face should have gotten audiences to cast her off as being another brainless minimum wage slave, toiling away her hours at a soul-sucking retail discount chain. But then she opened up her little bow of a mouth and began to speak in her delightfully flat monotone. There's something about Deschanel's performance in here where you can see that disgruntled fellow employee that you used to share counter space with. While it was a small role, she managed to make the most of it.
I don't think there's a single person who's worked a cash register and wanted to deliver her classic, "F*ck you very much!" line. Perhaps there are some of us out there who have pulled it off, although probably not without getting caught and reprimanded for it. Her deadpan delivery adding to the comical nature of "Cirque de Face!" and the bitching about not getting off work early when a co-worker offs himself makes her the unclassical bitch that everyone wishes they could be a little more like.
6) Alan Cumming in CIRCLE OF FRIENDS (1995)
Long before the world had figured out that Alan Cumming was a gay man, he made a great play out of a lecherous straight man trying to woo his boss' daughter. Slimy, deceitful and amoral, Cumming's character makes a sharp impact on the movie whenever it treads too deeply into the mire of romantic comedy nonsense.
I think it's entirely possible for a man to be a bitch just as much as it is possible for a woman to be a bitch. The fact that I later found out about Cumming's sexuality means nothing in my choice. He's a catty sneak in this flick, making him the unsuspecting bitch.
5) Laura San Giacomo in SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989)
Many people believe that sexual repression is a key factor in being a bitch. Denying sex to your spouse, as Giacomo's sister does in this movie is portrayed as being an evil maneuver. While her sister isn't supplying the flesh and sweat, Giacomo gladly steps in. Just as much as the withholding of sex can cause a woman to appear cold and distant, the sexual crudeness and apparent lack of regard over who you sleep with can also work numbers on the bitchometer.
I can understand the frustration of Giacomo's character, cursed with the prim, proper and well-behaved sister who never seems to do anything wrong. However, I still believe that it takes a special breed of screwed-up woman to sleep with her own sister's husband as her means of retaliation for an unintentional and misperceived crime. Some might call it being a hussy, I call it the perfect example of the heartless bitch.
4) Shannen Doherty in MALLRATS (1995)
Let me start by saying that I think Shannen Doherty is an underrated actress. She's been in the business for years and knows how to deliver her lines and hit her marks. Plagued by a reputation that extends outside of her professional work, people rarely take her seriously. I think this was one of her most interesting roles, playing the fed-up girlfriend of the world's uber-slacker. Nothing special in terms of what she was required to do and yet that's the brilliance in it. Allowed the freedom to just act naturally and let the well-written lines flow, Shannen created a perfect bitchy ex-girlfriend.
Perceived as cold and distant by the people in her ex-boyfriend's life, she doesn't allow their opinions of her or his persistent harassment slow her down. She hooks up immediately with the mall lothario and takes her claws out whenever approached by Jason Lee. In the end you come to the realization that the pair are meant to be together simply because there's no one else who could stomach either one of them for very long. For that, Shannen becomes the Strips to the
Theme from Mighty Mouse Bitch.
3) Moira Kelly in THE CUTTING EDGE (1992)
Tiny, delicate and graceful, ice skaters usually have the appearance of being calm and collected, professional and polished. Never mind the fact that some of them might be as cold as the ice that they're skating on. Moira Kelly goes a few steps further than just being a standard stand-offish type and amps up her personality to a frosty spoiled brat bitch.
While she eventually cools off (or should that be "heats up"?) and unleashes emotions involving regret and remorse, she never really lets up. Determined to get her own way even at the cost of sabotaging her own career, all while wrapped up in a porcelain doll of a package, Kelly never got enough credit for creating a character which was both relatable and obnoxious. She gets the gold medal for Royal Princess bitch.
2) Rachel Weisz in THE SHAPE OF THINGS (2003)
This one was a selection I wasn't even sure fit into the bunch. How do you explain a woman who coerces her boyfriend into making drastic changes to his physical appearance, friendships and romantic live and then takes a step back and explains that it was all a research assignment in the first place? That, my readers, isn't just a bitch. That's a whole other four letter word.
Yet I had to recognize Weisz for her outstanding performance. There is never really a point in the movie that you like or trust her character. She is up front about her intentions and you can practically SMELL the warning signs emanating from the screen as you see her pout when she doesn't get her way and then reward with sexual favors when she does. Yet there's also this hint of "But what if I'm wrong?" that floats in the air. All of us have had bad instincts about our friends' mates and encouraged them to dump someone for similar manipulating behaviors. It usually ends up in a shooting of the messenger, thus leaving us to keep our mouths closed and then stand back in awe of the calamity that unfolded. Sneaky bitch just wouldn't be the right term for it. In fact, bitch in this case is really being too kind.
1) Bette Midler in RUTHLESS PEOPLE (1986)
Midler's played all kinds of characters over the years, from sweet natured dummies to hard nosed women who take no prisoners. She has a tendency to overshoot a lot of her roles, coming off as too weepy or too screechy and never really matching the energy of the cast around her. This was one of the few times when she was at precisely the correct speed, cast as the kidnapped wife of an unscrupulous man looking to get her out of his life so that he can carry on with his mistress.
She snaps orders at her kidnappers, two hapless fools who have zero idea of what they've gotten themselves into. She gripes and moans, scrunches up her face, kicks, screams and is one of the best sight gags in the flick. But the thing that makes her the best bitch of all is that she's a misunderstood one. So accustomed to people taking advantage of her for her money, so pampered by the people who refuse to show her reality for fear of being kicked off the gravy train, while she's an excellent bitch who shouldn't gain your sympathy, she does. And the greatest bitch of all is the bitch that we see in ourselves. That one who shouts, yells, creates a fuss and makes life hell for the people around her but only because she's trying to be heard. The Every Woman Bitch.
There are some really great bitches out there in the world. Women who refuse to kowtow to convention and put on sunny grins while eating their words. Women who speak up even when their voice will be the dissenting one in the room. Women who have no morals and bring a recall to the term "fairer sex." Women who are disrespected for doing the right thing.
There are all kinds of women in the world. And every single one of them has been called a bitch at some point in their life.
Wrap your head around that one. Or watch a movie if you prefer.
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