Unlikeable Female Characters (Anna Bogutskaya) – Book Review

To those on the film scene, Anna Bogutskaya has been a stalwart for a number of years, namely for being a prominent film critic, film programmer, podcaster (she runs The Final Girls, a film collective and very-well-regarded podcast) and all-round national cinephile. Now venturing into the book publishing sphere proper (her work previously appeared in Christina Newland’s She Found It in The Movies), Bogutskaya has released Unlikeable Female Characters, a critical examination of the women that pop culture has ardently tried to get the viewer to loathe.

Bogutskaya breaks down her treatise into a nonet of archetypes, including such classic misogynistic archetypes as The Psycho, The Bitch, The Weirdo, and so on and so forth, giving them space and structure for proper analysis and depth, as well as giving Bogutskaya the opportunity to bring in a wide variety of references and examples that borders on the multi-disciplinary.

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Unlikeable Female Characters falls into a neat niche of writing that focuses on the excavation and discussion of pop culture, while finding its own unique niche. As equal as other works in the pop-culture genre, it’s not an examination of self-reflection like Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, nor a memoir through the lens of fictional heroines like Samantha Ellis’ How to be a Heroine. Its closest cousin comes perhaps from Lindy West’s Shit Actually, a scathingly hilarious collection of essays excoriating disliked pop cultural artifacts, but it’s a testament to Bogutskaya’s writing that Unlikeable Female Characters more than stands on its own merits as it dissects Hollywood culture and the stifling double standards it enforces with regards to gender.

There’s a sprightliness to Bogutskaya’s writing that makes the exploration of every archetype an engaging read, whether bouncing from Carey Mulligan’s candy-cropped avenger in Promising Young Woman to the vitriol aimed at Anna Gunn’s Skyler White for merely existing in Breaking Bad. The book is replete with snark and dry humour (check the footnotes on the pages for little nuggets; the Harley Quinn one made this reviewer snort with delight). If you’ve ever wanted a breakdown of the Madonna-whore complex through Sex and the City and Scream, then you will find a lot to relish here.

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Unlikeable Female Characters is a thoroughly enjoyable and wholly and unabashedly nerdy examination of female representation across cinema and television that focuses on examination of the past and hope for the future. There is a real sense of scope for this sort of analysis in the future, so if Bogutskaya ever wants to take a second spin on the pop-culture carousel (maybe a horror-centric turn so Gale Weathers can get her dues?), this reviewer will be waiting and ready to delve deep once more.

Unlikeable Female Characters is out on 9th June from Sourcebooks.

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