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Talking female-driven comedies with Whitney Cummings

The comedian curated a film series about female-centered comedies. She tells us about why she picked "Sixteen Candles," "Frances Ha" and "Bridesmaids," and elaborates on what makes Greta Gerwig special.
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    Molly Ringwald plays a teenager whose parents forget her birthday in Johm Hughes' |Provided

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    Mickey Sumner and Greta Gerwig play besties who drift apart in Noah Baumbach's "Fr|IFC Films

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    Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne kill it in "Bridesmaids."

    |Universal Pictures

First off, Whitney Cummings is just glad the film program she curated — The LOL Movie Series, run by LOFT and Rooftop Films — is outside. “It’s how I wanted to see every movie as a kid: outside in the summer, in a tank top, on Tinder,” the comedian and writer tells us. “I’m used to huddling up and watching movies on my laptop like a creep.”

The theme of the series is movies centered around funny women, and Cummings has chosen three that span eras and sizes. There’s the classic “Sixteen Candles” (June 16; rain date: June 17), the tiny “Frances Ha” (June 25) and the blockbuster “Bridesmaids” (June 30). Here are her thoughts on each:

‘Sixteen Candles’ (1984)

What made you start with this one?

I wanted to kick off with a classic. There’s so much noise right now. We have so many options for entertainment these days. You’ve got Netflix, you’ve got HBO Go, you’ve got regular TV, you’ve got Hulu and Amazon and YouTube, and Snapchat, if you’re gross. It’s almost as if to get anyone to engage on a visceral level you have to say, “Hey, here’s this thing from your childhood!” There’s a nostalgia for classics right now because there’s so much modern content competing for our attention. It’s almost like the most edgy, modern thing you can do is just go back to the classics. It’s like when you see actresses on the red carpet. Everyone’s in these modern, tight, sexy outfits, showing skin. The loudest thing you can do is show up in this simple, black, floor-length dress.

Molly Ringwald really conveys, better than just about anyone, what teenagers are really like. Her comedy comes from her personality.

My philosophy of comedy is being authentic and being present. That’s what she did. She wasn’t forcing it. I think we all have a really deep, emotional connection to her. And she was awkward. I just loved it. Also, it’s almost funny to look at a woman whose face is real. It’s like, wow, she can move her forehead. Remember when women could do that? It’s refreshing to realize someone is being exactly who they are.

I remember first seeing “Sixteen Candles” when I was way too young to get it, probably six or seven. What are your memories?

I watched a lot of movies about adults as a kid. I had an older brother, and we would never return movies to Blockbuster. We would just keep them, like it was a free giveaway. That’s probably why Blockbuster went out of business. I think it was my family that did that. He was like 10 years older than me, and he would get Blockbuster movies and leave them around. I remember watching “Sixteen Candles” when I was older. I actually watched it right before college, so I did kind of watch it at the perfect time.

John Hughes had his uncommon, almost creepy ability to really get teens without pandering to them.

I feel like the character I related to the most when I was watching movies was the girl from “Uncle Buck” [also made by Hughes]. She was pissed off. She had a boyfriend named Bug. She was such a jerk and dating this loser who was 56 or something. That was totally me as a teenager: dating the wrong guy, pissed off at everybody. I just liked that she wasn’t some bubbly, naive teenager. She was trying to do some damage to her family. [Laughs] Also “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” was a favorite. I will fight everybody on whether “European Vacation” is the best “Vacation,” which is a very incendiary claim. The daughter in that was constantly texting her boyfriend. She would eat to medicate the pain. I related to that too.

‘Frances Ha’ (2013)

This really goes out of its way to be small. It’s even shot in black-and-white, like a French New Wave movie.

Movies these days go so big. Machines and special effects and cars that turn into monsters but who are really aliens. There’s just something so simple about that film. It’s so refreshing to see a girl in New York. There’s something so “Annie Hall” about it. It’s just nice to see a real human being having real conversation instead of New York City exploding. I don’t want to blow up New York City. Everyone wants to blow it up; I want to keep it. I just longed for a movie that wasn’t trying to blow up my favorite cities and have aliens come down and murder everyone.

It’s also a really acutely observed movie about being in your 20s: being broke, unsure what to do with your life, afraid your friends will get married and leave you.

These days 20somethings in most movies are superheroes and Spider-Man. In ‘50 Shades of Grey’ they want to get choked and hung by rope. No, no one wants any of that. No one wants to be a monster or an alien; no one wants to go to a sex dungeon. Girls in their 20s are just broke and they want a guy to be nice to them and to have their friends not leave them. Very simple.

And Greta Gerwig has such a fresh screen presence. And she cowrote it.

I really respect the way she’s done her career, if that’s even the proper word. She’s not at every premiere or every party. She’s not in every tabloid. She just does her thing and we see her when we see her. Every time I see her it’s such a pleasant surprise and I always want more because I don’t see her all the time. She’s in it for the right reasons.

‘Bridesmaids’ (2011)

This has a similar story to “Frances Ha” — insecure woman freaks out when her best friend goes and gets married — but it can’t be stressed how unusual it felt when this became a monster hit. Even today there aren’t so many female-driven blockbusters.

I think it’s starting to turn. I remember after ‘Bridesmaids’ I had all these ideas for women-driven comedies, and everyone was like, “Oh, no.” I was like, “Do we need more proof that this works?”

It was sold as “Hangover” for girls, but it’s not exactly that. At the same time it’s very much co-ed.

I have a guy friend who is an athlete who watches “Bridesmaids” every night before he goes to bed. Bizarre, and that’s probably some mental illness I haven’t diagnosed. But with these screenings you want groups to be able to go. You want men to enjoy it too. I don’t think feminism or women’s power means no men. That’s not fair. We want equality, not superiority. I remember when I watched ‘Bridesmaids,’ the most striking thing is there were guys in the theater laughing. It didn’t transcend a female comedy; it was just a comedy. My goal is to not be called a female comedian, but just a comedian.

The LOL Movie Series, run by LOFT and Rootop Films, will screen "Sixteen Candles" on June 16 (rain date: June 17), "Frances Ha" on June 25 and "Bridesmaids" on June 30. All screenings at Solar One at the pier at 23rd and FDR. Visit LOFT's site for more info.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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