One of the most enjoyable, personal, and feminist books I’ve read this summer had to be Hadley Freeman’s 80s film exploration Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them From Movies Any More). Not only is this a book that examines in detail some of the greatest films of (dare I say?) all-time such as The Princess Bride, Coming to America, Pretty in Pink, and Ghostbusters; the real draw of the collection is Freeman herself. Reading this book is like having a way cooler older sister watching the film right alongside you, pointing out the lessons you would have overlooked while simply laughing at the classic John Hughes wit. It’s hard to finish the book without feeling like Freeman is that cool upperclassmen in school that for some inexplicable reason, has taken you under her wing as friend, and a girl like me couldn’t waste the chance to extend that feeling into an interview. Read on to see some of the questions I couldn’t help but ask her about the book, feminists in film, and of course, Ghostbusters:
Kati Heng: As I read the book, I kept thinking that the subtitle very easily could have been “What 80s Movies Taught Us About Feminism and Why We Don’t Learn That Stuff from Movies Anymore,” or something catchier. Did you ever consider releasing this book in a more upfront feminist version?
Hadley Freeman: I’d written a book of feminist essays, Be Awesome, just the year before and I was ready to look at a broader range of subjects. But the main factor was that there were lots of things I wanted to discuss here besides feminism, particularly Eddie Murphy and how he broke racial barriers (which immediately closed behind him) and Ghostbusters and masculinity. But really, most of the book is about feminism and it opens with an essay about abortion, so I don’t exactly hide that subject under a bushel.
KH: How much of the research of this book consisted of re-watching 80s films? How did that process go?
HF: There were two main reasons I decided to write this book. The first was that it gave me a legit excuse to sit around my apartment all day watching 80s movies for about three months. The other was that it gave me a semi legit excuse to track down people like Molly Ringwood, Matthew Broderick, Ivan Reitman and so on and demand they give me an interview.
So yes, I re-watched all the 80s movies I discuss in the book and many more, and then I watched as many modern day comparable equivalents so I could get verify whether things have changed as much as I felt they had.
KH: Between your essays, you create these fantastic lists summarize the best moments, songs, lines and more from 80s films. Can you make me a list of the best 80s TV shows we should all watch?
10. The Wonder Years: Ain’t nothing wrong with nostalgia
9. Quantum Leap: All problems can be solved by a small handheld machine with buttons. This was proven to be true by, first, the Gameboy and now the iPhone.
8. Perfect Strangers: Foreigners are great.
7. The Facts of Life: Poor girls are way more fun than rich girls (Jo > Blair, obviously.)
6. Roseanne: Being female, a mother and overweight is no bar to becoming a mega celebrity. Roseanne Barr might be a hot mess of a political nightmare these days, but she really doesn’t get enough credit for barrier breaking here.
5. Family Ties: Always tease conservatives, aspire to be a hippy.
4. In Living Colour: Black comedy is way more fun when it doesn’t have to care about not scaring white audiences.
3. Square One Television and 3-2-1 Contact: No one remembers these shows but they were great. They showed that science and math were so much fun. Also Mathnet, the Dragnet spoof on Square One, remains my favorite detective show of all time
2. Murder She Wrote: Old ladies are badass
1. The Golden Girls: Being an old lady is awesome. You live with your best friends and you get to have sex with Leslie Nielsen!
KH: You call out some of today’s actors/producers/writers that are getting praised for releasing ‘feminist’ films that maybe aren’t or on the other end, creating films without any realistic depictions of women whatsoever (for instance, you greatly call out Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck). Are there any actors/producers/general moviemakers working today that you believe do a GREAT job showing real, strong female characters?
HF: First of all, Trainwreck is horrendous. It’s a so-called feminist movie that ends with the message women should give up their jobs to prove their devotion to a man and become a cheerleader, ideally incurring physical injury along the way. It is THE WORST. I hadn’t left a cinema in such a bad mood since the time I went to see the Sex and the City movies, which are genuinely the worst films ever made.
As for who is making good movies, I completely loved Desiree Akhavan’s film, Appropriate Behaviour, which came out last year. I thought Obvious Child starring Jenny Slate was pretty great, too. I have my hopes that Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling will write movies as good as the TV shows they’re in, so I’m waiting for those.
KH: You talked a little in the intro of the book about how your parents were protective of the media you consumed, yet allowed you to watch movies with much more freedom. Were there 80s movies where they drew the line?
HF: Dirty Dancing took a while to see—that was a big deal. Risky Business was another no-no, and for good reason, because it’s a completely insane movie. My parents were mainly worried about sex, I think, but swearing was another issue, so I didn’t see Top Gun, Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop and Die Hard until I was a teenager. I still haven’t seen most 80s horror films because I think Ghostbusters is scary enough, thank you.
KH: During that magical decade, which 80s movie character did you most identify with and why? Which characters do you aspire to be?
HF: I identified with two characters especially: Allison in The Breakfast Club, because I felt like a total weirdo, and Jeanie in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, because I knew what it felt like to be an angry sister. There was also a lot of Cameron Frye in me, the kid who thought everything came so easily to everyone else. As for who I aspire to be, I can’t limit this to just one person. It would have to be Ferris Bueller and Ouisa (Shirley Maclaine) in Steel Magnolias. So a mix of a sassy teenager and a crotchety old lady, in other words.
KH: Because I can’t NOT ask this question… How are you feeling about the Ghostbusters reboot?
HF: I’m pretty excited. Ghostbusters is one of my two favorite movies of all time (the other being Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and if it were being done by, say, Michael Bay starring a load of random dudes I’d be feeling pretty meh. But to have an all-female cast is already interesting, a cast of all hilarious women is great, and for it to be written by Paul Feig and Katie Dippold is great. I’ve loved Paul Feig since Freaks and Geeks, and all his films have been pretty great so far. I’m a huge fan of Katie Dippold’s writing—she did all the best episodes of Parks and Rec and she wrote The Heat, which I really liked.
KH: Finally, let’s move away from movies and talk about your books. How do you keep your books organized? What rooms do you keep them in? What books have you had since the 80s? What books are on your nightstand right now?
HF: To say my books are organized in anyway would be an overstatement. Most books are in my living room and they’re very loosely organized by fiction and non-fiction. My very favorite books are kept in my study as inspiration, things like Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Patricia Marx’s Him Her Him Him Again The End of Him. The books I’ve had since the 80s are my favorite books from childhood, such as A Wrinkle in Time, The Twenty-One Balloons, the Anne of Green Gables series and a complete collection of Tintin.