Girls from Ipanema
Prodigo Films, 2019-
Giuliano Cedroni and Heather Roth
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects
Nonfamily dramas with strong adult and/or socioeconomic themes
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”
Hollywood has seen a recent push for stronger leading female roles, with mixed success. As more female writers and directors forge their paths, talented actresses gain the opportunity to show their range. However, with Marvel now dominating both the big and small screens, the definition of “strong female lead” has often become a woman who can punch through brick walls. These portrayals fit in with what’s currently popular but at times interfere with the increased reputation of more down-to-earth depictions (i.e. Erin Brokovich). This is not to be interpreted as a push to cancel the She-Hulk reboot but simply a memo to exhibit feminine strength outside of the fantasy realm. Enter the period piece Girls from Ipanema, a Brazilian drama about perseverance in the face of chauvinism.
Girls from Ipanema examines the many ways patriarchal power structures prevent women’s independence, specifically in the late 1950s-early ‘60s. The two-season series follows Maria “Malu” Luiza (Maria Casadevall), a devoted wife and mother who arrives in Rio from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to discover that her husband, Pedro (Kiko Bertholini), has abandoned her. Left with nothing but the property they planned to establish a restaurant on, she decides to open a bossa nova music club called Coisa Maís Linda with the help of her new friend, Adelia (Pathy Dejesus), and lifelong best friend, Ligia (Fernanda Vasconcellos). Along the way, they also receive help from Ligia’s ambitious journalist friend, Thereza (Mel Lisboa), and business mogul Roberto (Gustavo Machado).
Malu’s strength and determination make her one of the most endearing protagonists you will ever see. She is not only fierce but charismatic, most clearly on display in how she greets the club audiences. Malu faces down numerous threats on her club’s operations and proves to be both clever and fearless in her resolutions. Amid jumping through many hoops, she provides inspiration and words of wisdom to her female companions while also learning more about herself.
Throughout the series, we see just how many roadblocks the controlling, adversarial male characters set to stand in the way of the women’s autonomy, be it from singing, printing a news story, running a business or raising a family. Most tragic is Ligia’s relationship with the abusive Augusto (Gustavo Vaz), who very much resents her desire to perform on stage or even at parties for fun. As the main characters jump through hoops, they not only discover creative solutions but find helping hands along the way, such as Roberto and Malu’s gruff but loyal alcohol vendor.
Girls from Ipanema does not shy away from illustrating any social issues, including classism, racism, sexism and the intersection of all three. Most admirable about the show is its ability to display these ‑isms in their many facets rather than just over-the-top, fleeting, or symbolic ways. In one scene, Thereza pretends to be upset with a fellow female co-worker in order to appease the editor-in-chief watching from a distance. As a housekeeper, Adelia faces verbal abuse from the many wealthy White women she has worked for, and her frustration boils over in a conversation with the more privileged Malu when their club is abruptly flooded, putting them out of business. Malu must figure out how to retain full ownership of her club when the pesky Pedro returns, as property laws heavily favored men. The show even succeeds in showing generational gaps, as Augusto’s mother seeks to enable him and protect him from consequences.
Pressed to come up with a comparison, the show is most reminiscent of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a more mainstream show from the same time period about a housewife becoming a standup comedian. Both series dive deep into all the ways that institutional sexism operates in the time period and carries through to present day.