‘Dollface’ offers a narrow vision of womanhood

Shows that center women and their experiences are great, and the world needs more movies and series with mostly female casts. But shows like Hulu’s Dollface, which appears to have a vision of expressing some kind of universal truth about sisterhood, always end up wallowing in shallow essentialism that alienates wide swaths of our gender.

Dollface

 

RELEASE DATE: 11/15/2019
CREATOR: Jordan Weiss
STREAMING: Hulu
‘Dollface’ features a few good performances and flashes of insight, but it offers a largely shallow vision of women’s relationships.

It all starts innocently enough. Jules (Kat Dennings) gets dumped by Jeremy (Connor Hines), her boyfriend of five years, and realizes that she’s failed to maintain any of her friendships. She seeks to reconnect with her old college friends, Madison (Brenda Song) and Stella (Shay Mitchell), and befriend some of her coworkers at Woom, a sendup of Goop that preaches female empowerment by peddling expensive material goods and snake oil. To do that, Jules must reconnect with the sisterhood that connects all women.

While I’m always in favor more shows featuring women and the connections between them, Dollface, which seems caught between satire and sincerity, flubs it particularly hard. The way it presents Jules trying to get back in touch with her old friends as part of some grand sisterhood universalizes the experiences and interests of a very narrow set of women—the ones who are thin, conventionally beautiful, cis, heterosexual, and wealthy. In a word, privileged women.

Hulu Dollface review Hulu/YouTube

One of Dollface’s most telling moments comes at the end of the first episode, when its main trio climbs into their respective beds, all still wearing their full faces of makeup, sparkly eyeshadow, and obvious false eyelashes. I don’t believe for a second that Madison and Stella don’t have 15-step skincare routines.

Brief flashes of insight and charm save the show from being a complete slog. The magical realism segments, in which Jules interacts with a computer-generated “old cat lady” as a way to translate her internal processes to the screen, are often entertaining. Dollface is at its best when it ditches the wannabe-poignant speechifying about sisterhood and just lets its ensemble cast do its thing. Jules, Stella, Madison, and the delightfully weird Izzy (Esther Povitsky) have decent chemistry when they’re not lecturing or sniping at one another.

The individual performances are a mixed bag. Song and Dennings are fine, but too broad to pull off the subtler moments. Povitsky seems to be the only one who isn’t concerned with looking pretty all the time, and her facial expressions add hilarity to any scene. The standout performance, however, is Mitchell as Stella. It’s subtle and varied, at times even understated compared to her costars. She’s the only one I could see myself spending time with, without wanting to claw my face off.

Hulu Dollface review Hulu/YouTube

I’m tired of shows that are supposedly about women’s inner lives and relationships, but only highlight the lives of the most privileged few. I understand how they get made: Wealthy Hollywood women make something true to their lives without thinking about people who are different than them. But for everyone else, it’s alienating to see experiences so different from our own treated as universal. I’m still waiting for more shows about queer women, trans women, poor women, and women who don’t conform to traditional beauty standards.

And yes, Dollface writers, some of us really do play video games. We don’t just do it to make guys like us.

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Caitlin Moore

Caitlin Moore

Caitlin Moore has been watching anime since a two-episode VHS cost $30. She writes for her own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem; writes, edits, and podcasts for Anime Feminist; and travels to anime conventions doing panels about shoujo manga.