The Hot Flashes. 2013. Rated R. Directed by Susan Seidelman. Written by Brad Hennig. Starring Brooke Shields, Wanda Sykes, Daryl Hannah, Virginia Madsen, and Camryn Manheim.
by: Eric J. Grimm
Susan Seidelman’s latest film, The Hot Flashes, opens today at the Cinema Village theater. The small, tucked away screening house may seem a strangely small venue for a film with recognizable leads like Brooke Shields, Wanda Sykes, Daryl Hannah, Virginia Madsen, and Camryn Manheim, but it is an example of both a rapidly changing film distribution model and an unchanging mindset about how marketable a film about older women can be. 92Y hosted a discussion with Seidelman and film critic Caryn James on the topic of women in film before screening The Hot Flashes, a comedy about middle aged women who start a basketball team to raise money for a mobile mammogram unit. The discussion did not shed new light on the lack of female directed films aimed at women, though that’s not to Seidelman and Jones’ discredit. They suggested that while there were more female directors than when Seidelman directed her debut feature Smithereens in 1982, the studio system is still dominated by men who seek to bankroll billion dollar franchises over potentially profitable films for underserved audiences.
If the outlook is bleak, the story of how The Hot Flashes was made may serve as a small beacon of hope. The film was written by first time screenwriter and Texas native Brad Hennig, whose mother died of breast cancer when he was young. He and Seidelman had a mutual friend who passed the screenplay along to the director. Seidelman jumped at the chance to direct a film about “women of a certain age.” She shopped the film to multiple studios who said the film had no audience. After a few years, Hennig found women outside of the industry, who were passionate about the film’s subject matter, to fund the film. Indie distributor Vertical Entertainment picked up the film for an early On Demand release and a limited theatrical distribution. Seidelman seemed almost apologetic about the film not playing in a larger theater in New York, though fans of Cinema Village applauded the announcement that the film would be screening there.
The film itself doesn’t chart new territory for female-driven films, but it doesn’t need to. As a feel-good comedy with familiar and reliable actresses, it works well. The audience at the screening, many of whom were in the target demographic, loved the film, laughing throughout and applauding enthusiastically at the end. Even though the film isn’t geared toward me, I found myself chuckling and it was nice to see actresses who, Seidelman noted, “hadn’t been onscreen in a long time.” While its limited theatrical release may seem disappointing, it is widely available on VOD platforms like iTunes, Amazon, and Vudu and will play well on a small screen for those who want light, well-acted fare.