Women Eating in Movies

From our latest newsletter:

Everyone has their favourite “food movies” (our guest chef-writer Pete Goffe-Wood rounded up his personal best for his imagined Food Oscars last year), or at least food scenes from movies – *that* scene from When Harry and Sally featuring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in Katz’s Delicatessen in New York jumps to mind for those of us of a certain age. But of course Meg Ryan’s performance is memorable not for what she’s eating, but rather for the, uhm, uncomfortable position she puts Billy Crystal’s character in while he’s trying to eat a sandwich.
The new Ocean’s 8 film apparently does well to break the Hollywood convention of featuring women primarily not eating, or eating only for a very particular purpose other than simply nourishing themselves (there’s a scene in the 2017 film A Ghost Story in which the female character, played by Rooney Mara, eats an entire pie after losing her partner, and which for many was the most noteworthy part of an otherwise extremely strange film).

A still from Ocean’s 8, featuring Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett

In Ocean’s Eight, on the other hand, we witness a conversation which “takes place at Veselka, the venerable diner in Manhattan’s East Village. Debbie [Sandra Bullock] is eating from several plates of food on the table, explaining the heist to Lou [Cate Blanchett], talking through bites of Ukrainian food. She pushes her fork around her plate to pick up some potato. Once a haystack pile of crispy-edged latkes sits on her fork, she swirls her knife around to scoop up sour cream and then pats at the pile, dabbing and spreading the cream around until she is satisfied with the forkful she’s put together. Her bite punctuates a sentence. For the entire scene her focus is split between filling her partner in on the details of a heist and having her lunch. The scene ends with Debbie offering Lou a bite. She pops out the gum she’s been grinding on throughout the scene and eats the potatoes, shrugs one of those universal ‘yeah, that’s great’ shrugs, picks up a fork, and eats some more”.

The Eater piece which describes this scene concludes that “At its core, this is a humdrum scene, an unfailingly simple way to portray a natural interaction between friends — it’s just two people sitting at a table, eating. But, considering the way that women are typically portrayed in blockbusters, it is a wild moment, because this is a scene where women are eating. And they are eating for no goddamned reason at all”.

It’s somewhat remarkable that it should be remarkable to see women eating on screen for the same reason that we see them breathing, walking, sleeping, or otherwise just being human. But in a time of reckoning all round, perhaps it’s a hopeful sign that (some) fiction is finally beginning to imitate real life.