The last two movies I’ve seen Liv Tyler in, she’s been the central female character, and a weak one at that: A former drug addict who’s been rescued by a sweet man but finds herself easily falling under the control of a controlling yet seductive jerk thanks to her docile personality. That counts for both Super and The Ledge. (And That Thing You Do! and Armageddon, now that we think about it.) Obviously there’s a formula Tyler’s got in her head. But why would she want to follow it — in both films, her character is meek and lost, hardly speaking above a murmur and terrified of the man who holds her in check.
According to Carina Chocano, this is a good thing. She wrote a fascinating ediorial in last week’s New York Times about the “plague of strong female characters”: Hollywood’s attachment to the woman who can kick ass in her stilettos without ever letting on that she feels fear and grief like a normal person. These “role models” are horribly unrealistic, and actually alienate the female audiences they’re meant to inspire:
Of course, I get the point of characters like these. They do serve as a kind of gateway drug to slightly more realistic — or at least representational — representations of women. On the other hand, they also reinforce the unspoken idea that in order for a female character to be worth identifying with, she should really try to rein in the gross girly stuff. This implies that unless a female character is “strong,” she is not interesting or worth identifying with.
To be honest, I thought the same about Liv Tyler in The Ledge, especially since that came out after Super. In both movies, she’s used as an object in men’s competition, whether it’s self-made hero Rainn Wilson squaring off against drug lord Kevin Bacon or fundamentalist Patrick Wilson using her as a bargaining chip with atheist Charlie Hunnam. But therein lies the beauty: Her character was once a joyous woman filled with life, who’s been reduced to an object. We can see that she still has the spark left in her, though it’s faint. We’re witnessing a woman in flux, who was once great and could be again.