The 'Cool Girl' Trope: Real Life Fantasy, Screenwriting Nightmare
The "Cool Girl" is a trope we've seen overused, subverted, and lampooned. Let's do a deep dive together.
Sometimes when you're writing a new screenplay or pilot, you want to develop a character you think takes on the normal tropes or stereotypes. But sometimes that trope subversion is actually the new trope.
Yeah, I know, it's a brain twister. But stick with me.
Today I want to talk about cool girls.
No, I'm not talking about your mother.
I'm talking about the character who pops off the page and can attract all sorts of actors, depending on the role's execution.
Check out this video from The Take and let's talk after the jump!
A Deep Dive Into the 'Cool Girl' Trope
Okay, you've watched the video. Let's dive into what it means for your screenplay and pilots.
What is the cool girl?
The cool girl is one of the guys. She's the direct mirror to the male protagonists' likes and dislikes within the world. She's fun, raunchy, profane, and effortlessly hot. The most important aspect of a cool girl is that "she's not like other girls."
She also will have almost no arc outside of what happens to her love interest.
Let's dig deeper.
Where did the cool girl idea come from?
The cool girl is a myth perpetuated by mostly male writers. It was called out and deconstructed by Gillian Flynn in her book and subsequent movie, Gone Girl.
In this monologue, we hear everything that makes up the male fantasy of this kind of character trope.
Flynn got the idea of the cool girl from watching the movie, There's Something About Mary. In the film, Cameron Diaz's character plays golf, eats fast food, loves beer, and her actions lead a number of men to fall in love with her.
She's portrayed as the perfect woman. Laid back, interested in dweeby, out of shape guys as much as jocks, and never stresses.
This lead Flynn to think of her as "such a cool girl" and was the launch for the idea.
But the "cool girl" ideas has been in film and television since its inception.
The cool girl in movies and TV
As you're reading, I'm sure your mind immediately is jumping to different portrayals of this kind of character.
TV shows like How I Met Your Mother thrive off this kind of writing and casting. They both have female characters played by incredibly hot actresses that just want to hang with the guys, smoke cigars, and drink scotch.
Or what about That 70's Show where Donna's a tomboy and loves to wrestle?
In feature films, you don't have to dig deep to bring the cool girls to the front of the line.
These women are usually stripped of their femininity outside of pure looks, which gets to point of emphasis across clearly. They have to be attractive.
Olivia Wilde's character in Drinking Buddies is a brewmaster who just wants to hang.
Sloane, from Ferris Beuller, was all about fulfilling Ferris' fantasies about his big day off. She was along for the wild ride.
Or what about the character of Rachel, in Forgetting Sarah Marshall? Her entire plotline is that she can just cut loose and hang, which is what our lead needs in a girl so he can be the one who shines...
The cool girl deconstructed
The male point of view in writing within the history of the industry has been discussed a lot. We know that with equality comes a new point of view, and as we embrace that we'll get better film and TV.
That being said, there is a long history of this trope from even the early days of Hollywood.
Movies like Bringing Up Baby showed women fulfilling the male fantasy, in an almost manic pixie dream girl sort of way.
This is not to say women don't enjoy beer, or golf, or sports...plenty of entertainment goes out of its way to frame this correctly...but when those same women are only defined by how hot they are at the end of it, like Megan Fox's character in Transformers, you have a problem.
Aside from the sexism at the center, it's also terrible storytelling.
Cool girls are often so thinly written that they are unrelatable to anyone watching or force insane fantasies upon viewers that set an impossible standard by which we judge people in real life.
If your audience cannot identify with the people on the screen you'll have lost them right away.
The same goes for the development executives reading and considering your projects.
How do we destroy this trope?
We need characters with individuality.
The more you focus on the development and arcs of the characters at the center, the less they'll feel like stale archetypes with no part of reality.
Also, if you're writing a romantic comedy or drama, think about this question:
What if your characters had to accommodate one another?
What if both people at the center of the story had to fundamentally work on themselves or just reason with the other person to have a healthy dynamic?
I think those kinds of questions could put you on the road to success and help you avoid any of the pitfalls mentioned earlier. As a male screenwriter, I also seek the advice and notes of people outside my purview. Get a few women to read your work if you're nervous!
If you don't know any women, that's a real problem!
We all want better film and television on the air. If we want to make the cool girl a gone girl, we need to write and produce knowing this trope exists and do our best to avoid it.
Let me know what you think in the comments!
What's next? Do a deep dive into genre!
Film and TV genres affect who watches your work, how it's classified, and even how it's reviewed. So how do you decide what you're writing? And which genres to mash-up? The secret is in the tropes.
Click to learn!