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5 Alternative Badass Female Film Characters

Ripley in the Alien series, Marge Gunderson in Fargo, Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, YEAH YEAH YEAH. Here are 5 rad female protagonists that are slightly more under the radar.

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1. Vanessa Lutz in Freeway (1996)

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Before Pleasantville and Cruel Intentions, Reese Witherspoon starred in Freeway, a twisted, blacker-than-black comedy thriller shake-up of Little Red Riding Hood. Her character, Vanessa Lutz, is, on the surface, a dimmer than average, trash-talking teen with a gangster boyfriend and a history of anger problems, spending most of her life on a carousel of foster care, juvie, and living with her drug-addicted, prostitute mother. After her mother and sleazy step-father are arrested, Vanessa decides to run away in search of her Grandmother, rather than face foster care again. On her journey, she is picked up by Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), and it soon becomes apparent that he is, in fact, the 'I-5 Killer', a serial killer who has been preying on young girls up and down the freeway. The consequences of their encounter lead us on a darkly comic, brilliantly cynical romp through injustice, revenge, and what can happen when someone is pushed over their limit.

Whilst the film's crude (in a good way) B-movie tone and twisted humour means it skates lightly over what are some really dark topics, Witherspoon's portrayal of Vanessa adds real depth. She is a complete victim of her upbringing and circumstances but she retains an intrinsic sense of right and wrong throughout, even if she doesn't go about things in the best way. She is a heroine with all of society's prejudices stacked against her and she's well aware of it, her often ill choices are fuelled by the belief that she will always be seen by those with power (mostly men) as lying, criminal trash. She is pissed off, and rightly so, but Witherspoon plays her with a wonderfully, constantly contradicting play of light and dark, innocence and experience; a young girl in a mean, sordid and unjust world, and the outcome is that one cannot help but root for her. It's also worth a watch for a small part from Brittany Murphy (RIP) as Vanessa's super weird lesbian juvie pal.

2. Susan "Rita" White in Educating Rita (1983)

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Based on the play by Willy Russell, Educating Rita tells the story of Rita (Julie Walters - IDOL), a young, working-class Liverpudlian woman who joins an Open University literature course once a week. Her assigned tutor, Frank Bryant (Michael Caine - kinda definitely fancy him in this), is a jaded alcoholic who can't seem to decide which he hates more: his students or himself. To Rita, an education represents freedom and happiness, a way to escape the conservative pressures of her upbringing, represented by her husband Denny and her father, who think the only thing she should want is a baby. As Rita says, 'I don't want a baby yet, I wanna discover myself first'.

Her brash and bawdy manner, witch's cackle, and innocent desire to better herself starts to bring Frank back to life but as Rita begins to excel and become more like the other students he disdains, and as Frank's personal and professional life unravels, their relationship becomes fraught with tension and resentment. Rita deals with everything that life throws at her with unreserved honesty, an earnestness that is truly endearing, and a white-hot sense of humour (zinger after zinger with this babe!). Plus, her outfits are beyond amazing, seriously, she rocks more looks than Madonna in this film.

3. Frances Halladay in Frances Ha (2012)

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Goofy, confused, and adorably awkward, Greta Gerwig's twenty-nothing Frances shambles through black and white New York - this is mumblecore at its best. An aspiring dancer, she lives with her BFF Sophie and they have awesome play-flights in parks and busk together and generally just have all the lolz until Sophie moves in with her boyfriend. Frances is left to figure-it-all-out on her own and we follow her as she face-palms her way through various situations, including parties, dates, workplace d00m, and a disastrously FAIL weekend in Paris (SHE'S BASICALLY ME. But in New York. So a better version of me).

Frances maintains an air of vaguely weary but natural pluck despite her string of disappointments and steps backwards, and whilst the fact that her finally getting it together and achieving something feels somewhat unexplained (HOW DOES SHE DO IT!? I NEED ANSWERS), she is just so painfully lovely that I all want is to be her best friend and get into wacky adventures wearing clogs. The thing I love most about this film is that it has the feel of a romantic comedy but the only romance explored is that of female friendship which can often be just as turbulent and angst-ridden as the stormiest of love affairs, if not more so. Watch this speech, it's just perfection!

4. Katarina "Kat" Stratford in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

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This film is a firm favourite when it comes to the best of the teen/high-school genre, largely due to a script that seems to get better every time I watch it, but Julia Stiles' Kat makes it stand out from the crowded hallways. Teen films are fond of extremes when it comes to their characters, who often fall into easily categorised stereotypes. This is fairly understandable, adolescence is a whirlwind of extremes: extreme change, extreme emoshunz, extreme fashion choices, all whilst trying to fit in, even if that is achieved by trying to stand out as much as possible. The pretty, mainstream popular girls are a repeat offering, and anything considered to be "alternative" is generally a) relegated to supporting or minor character/cafeteria clan, and b) presented as some anger-child born of the unconscious coupling between goth, punk, rock and any other sub-genre that involves wearing a lot of black.

But Kat Stratford provides a welcome alternative to the usual female stereotypes on display. She is fiercely intelligent, opinionated and outspoken (especially when it comes to the patriarchy), listens to Riot Grrl music, is the undisputed Queen of Snark, and gives unbelievably good bitchface. But the most amazing thing of all is that SHE'S A FEMINIST THAT LOOKS JUST LIKE A NORMAL GIRL! (Platform flip-flops and all! Hey, it was the '90s, ok?) And she's not a "man-hating lesbian"! And a rad guy falls in love with her without her having to change (I'm looking at you Grease) because he respects what a badass she is! Kat's stereotype-smashing character in a film genre that rests on a foundation of cliches provides messages for girls everywhere that are as powerful today as they were in 1999.

5. Tiffany Maxwell in Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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Everyone's (unless you suck) favourite girl crush J-Law's first major award-winning role as a widow battling grief and depression is just a cacophony of awesomeness. She meets Pat (Bradley Cooper), recently released from a psychiatric hospital, and recruits him as a dance partner for an upcoming competition on the pretence of helping him communicate with his ex-wife who has a restraining order against him.

She is a perfect match for Pat as they are both out of kilter with life, completely lacking brain-to-mouth filters and a sense of socially appropriate behaviour. Brooding, blunt and ballsy (alliteration WIN), Tiffany repeatedly calls Pat out on his double-standards and generally deluded bullshit in spectacular fashion, and usually in public. She is smart and determined, even if her methods are somewhat batshit, and her hard-faced facade hides a defensive vulnerability that flickers under the surface. Tiffany is full of surprises, eg. maintaining how much she despises American football for most of the film and then busting out a ream of expert knowledge in a room dripping with testosterone before cracking off the top of a beer LIKE A BAWSE (this scene is apparently the one that made her Dad cry because it's his favourite brand of beer). Ugh, she's just so amazing it makes me ANGRY! Give her all the awards forever and ever.

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