This movie caused some marriage strife between me and my husband. Though we originally met at a ski movie, I’m usually not interested in spending time viewing these hackneyed bro-fests. On our first date he’d had to counter all of my objections just to get me to go to the movie (and, lucky him, it worked). Last week when I stopped at the theatre pub for lunch and saw that Pretty Faces: The Story of a Skier Girl was playing that night, was sold out, and not only did we not have tickets, but my plugged-in spouse hadn’t bothered to tell me the movie was in town and playing. I called him straightaway and told him to get on his myriad social networks and find us some damn tickets immediately, which he did, which mended fences. As much as I get on him for spending too much time on social media, I admit it has its uses.
So there we were: at a ski movie. Well, waiting in line at a ski movie, to start. And you know what was immediately noticeable? WOMEN! Women everywhere. The line was at least 60-70% women. I’m guessing at a standard ski movie that number is more like 30-40 (hard for me to say as I really attend few, but the uptick in attendance from women was noticeable even to me). Hey, industry, want the biggest buyers (women) to get a gander at your stuff? Put your ads in movies for us! Is this such a difficult concept? (yes, apparently)
It seems so obvious that just putting women in the spotlight ensures participation from the demographic, but the industry has dragged its feet in either acknowledging or acting on this revelation. Rather than wait around for the good old boys to die off, Lynsey Dyer took on the project herself, and Pretty Faces: The Story of A Skier Girl is the result.
The all-female movie isn’t really the cohesive story of one person, as the title might suggest. It’s a loose collection of what could be considered scenes from the life stages of a mountain athlete; the professional big-mountain freeskier, the up and comer gaining experience in big venues, teens hucking huge gaps with helicopters following (and, obligatorily, flying through the shot), and teeny toddler all getting the spotlight throughout the film. Its face is sheer fun: the requisite big-mountain-spine-skiing shots bookended by road-trip merriment, chairlift silliness and hilarious preschooler POV, but the film is so much more than just another collection of videos of people skiing. The skiers in the film aren’t portrayed as untouchable super-skiers, but actual humans with emotional ranges that encompass feelings beyond “stoked” and “bummed.”
At one point we see Rachael Burks dialing back her speed out of nervousness, only to be steamrollered by the pursuing avalanche and discussing the resulting demoralization followed by the exultation of tackling the line again, this time successfully. This scene stuck out to me as unique in ski movies; failures are usually rarely shown and Burks’ candid admission that she didn’t want to ski for a few days afterwards, unheard of, at least at the point at which I got tired of all the testosterone and stopped going to ski movies. Even with plenty of mountain montages, cliff jumps, spine lines, and stomped landings, Pretty Faces is more encouraging than intimidating, more accessible than exclusive. The stunning big-mountain ski shots were celebratory rather than an exercise in contrived intimidation; the message is “you could do this, too, if you want to.” In a world that communicates to girls non-stop that they are lesser than, not as good, the sideshow, this missive is desperately needed. Nothing can stream that message straight into the minds of the young girls watching than two hours of nonstop imagery of women making it happen.
There are a few small but jarring missteps. When the project was announced, Dyer got some flack for the choice of name and I still think it wasn’t a good choice. She says that the term “pretty faces” is a reference not only to sex appeal but to the mountain faces that inspire us all to alpine accomplishments, but I think that mostly it’s just a little bit sexist, as if the only women who matter are the conventionally attractive ones. One only has to consider the implications of a dude ski movie called “Handsome Faces” to acknowledge that the title is a little awkward at best, and more than a little porny. This off-key note was reinforced by the only scene in the movie that I plain didn’t like: a monologue from a cat driver about which women are the most attractive – not the skinny city models, he says; they have nothing to do with his own life, but the ones who have a fresh mountain glow on their faces. It’s great that this guy likes active women, but I found the idea that skiing makes women more attractive contrary to the feminist ideals behind the movie. Really, who cares what some guy finds attractive? I doubt it would have crossed viewers’ minds before that scene. I cringed a little at that message getting into the brains of the young girls watching. We are skiing because we love it, not because dudes think it’s hot. That, and the movie was SO CLOSE to celebrating skier women without slamming non-skier women. The irony, I suppose, is that it’s a man whose scene took us there.
Even with its small flaws, the Pretty Faces experience is one that girls in the audience desperately need – they need to look up on the screen and see people like them. Dyer has undeniably grown the pool of upcoming “skier girls” with the seemly simple act of going out and filming women doing the sport they love.