why netflix’s ibiza is the feminist must-watch of the summer
It’s the empowering love story that isn’t really about love at all.
Image courtesy Netflix
The opening credits of Netflix’s newcomer Ibiza pan across the usual NYC cityscape and focus on a female street mime artist dressed as the statue of liberty. After a few moments looking fed up with the ridiculousness of her job she says, “f*uck it” and lights a cig. This yolo attitude echoes throughout the rest of the film making the most accurate portrayal of the female experience I have almost ever seen.
The plot sees best friends Harper (Gillian Jacob from Netflix’s Love), Nikki (Vanessa Bayer, SNL alum and funniest character in Amy Schumer's comedy Trainwreck) and Leah (Phoebe Robinson from 2 Dope Queens) turn a business trip to Barcelona into a ‘girls on tour’ rave-athon in Ibiza. It loosely follows main character, Harper, stalking sexy DJ Leo West (original GOT King of the North, Richard Madden) to the clubbing capital, but is more a tale of friendship and navigating career responsibilities, than a desperate attempt to complete her life with ‘the one’. It isn’t shown to be embarrassing or ‘too keen’ that she literally crosses an ocean to bump into him again, and refreshingly shows an equal power balance throughout, despite Leo being a famous DJ. Leo leaves Harper just as many rambling voicemails, if not more, and this air of equality passes down to the three female leads, who each have their own vibe and sexual conquest. Nikki and Leah are never painted as Harper’s cronies or second-in-command, and their strong performances and authentic connection mean that a spin-off series would be a blessing. (Hint hint, Neflix!)
In 2017, the top-grossing 100 films had twice as many male characters as female, who comprised of only 24% of sole protagonists, 37% of major characters and 34% of all speaking characters, according to the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film, which is why Ibiza writer Lauryn Khan chose Netflix to release her first feature film. “I think Netflix is really great because they’re not worried about weekend box office,” she said to Vulture, adding, “I think there’s a real appetite for films that represent the ladies more.” Produced by former SNL bosses, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, the story was actually based on a real-life holiday to Spain that Lauryn took her best friends on after making her first script sale in her late twenties (goals!) whilst assisting the two producers. “We were all 27, 28, and we got to fly fancy and do all these things for the first time,” she told Glamour. “It was a real joy to treat them after being in a place of making no money for so long.”
It’s Broad City meets Bridesmaids meets Girls Trip, and while it likely won’t be winning any awards -- there are some very questionable slo-mo dancing scenes to Avici -- it is a feel good, laugh-out-loud film that perfectly gets you in the mood for summer, without overloading you with bikini scenes of hot Victoria’s Secret-esque women causing a self-hatred spiral. “I am a total cliché right now and I don’t f*cking care!” Harper yells in one scene, perfectly capturing the ethos of this film. Yes, in many ways it is a cliché, but no it doesn’t care, and neither should you. It’s a film about real girls that don’t take themselves too seriously and experience unencumbered yolo fun. Here are the reasons why Ibiza is the most empowering ‘chick-flick’ to date…
The cast are diverse
While there is always room for improvement -- there are actually no gay characters at all -- the fact that the none of the three leads are your standard white, skinny blonde is a welcome change. The brunette, ginger and black BFFs are of varied body shapes and skin tones and all are shown to be positively catnip to the opposite gender. Even Nikki’s severely sunburnt lobster-red skin, which left her with a Brits-abroad pasty sunglasses mark, didn’t reduce her sex appeal, as it is in this scene she lands her Spanish lover. The majority of dialogue is between women throughout and subtle gender diversity, such as the fact that every DJ, bar Leo, in the film is a woman, attempts to re-address the underrepresentation of women in film.
There are beyond real moments
The film is a hilariously realistic portrayal of female drunkenness from Leah trying to herd the other two back to the hotel after a long night, to Harper looking a state ‘the morning after’ getting it on with Leo. We can all relate to the less than fresh appearance after a one night stand (with no available make-up wipes or hairbrush) and so her smeared mascara and birds-nest hair, with no unrealistic makeup re-touches, is subtly fundamental to the believability of the scenes. Classic movie moments are repeatedly subverted into FML ‘just my luck’ fails with Nikki getting shat on by a bird as she ‘whoops’ in the roof down limo, and ungracefully falling in-between the two pushed together hotel beds as she jumps on them enthusiastically, ‘13 Going on 30’-style.
They talk about tabooed natural bodily functions
From discussing yoghurt being the perfect antidote for yeast infections (lathering it, not eating it) to Harper drunkenly attempting to take a shit in the street and hilariously describing ‘pushing it back in’, these small moments make a difference in reminding audiences that real women aren’t the sanitised versions usually presented in the media. Vagina’s can’t always be sweet and tasty, and -- shock horror -- girls poo too.
It subtly tackles everyday female issues, whilst not basing the whole plot around them
Subtlety is this film’s forte, and script-writer Lauryn uses minor filler scenes to address some everyday issues and discrimination women endure. There is manspreading on the subway, and Harper’s boss (played by Michaela Watkins) even admits that the only reason she sent her on the trip to complete a deal with “really horny Spanish men that like the ladies”, was because she has a vagina. Later on, Leah is given a good minute long monologue admiring the different types of boobs that are presented on the topless Barcelona beach -- proof that the whole plot doesn’t need to revolve around body confidence to insight body confidence.
The women are unapologetically sexual beings
All three women are confident in their own sexuality and talk about sleeping with men as casually and crudely as many real young millennial women do. “Some people land on the moon, others cure diseases, you smash this DJ” says Leah to Harper matter of factly, as she convinces her to get on the plane to Ibiza. Upon arrival, she asks the taxi man to “take us to the sunset” and Nikki chimes in with “And then the DJs dick!” It doesn’t make the characters any less self-respecting or be any less empowered, only more real.
Both men and women make advances
Ibiza lets viewers experience a shocking world where it’s accepted for both men and women to make the first move. These women don’t wait around trying to play games, paralysed by archaic social convention, and instead pursue boldly and are received all the better for it. Leo isn’t pathetically put off when he learns that Harper flew over to Ibiza for him, he’s pleasantly surprised, as he should be -- three cheers for a bit of harmless stalking.
For once, the guy is the charming, goofy clutz
At long last, the woman is not portrayed to be the ditzy lover, so overwhelmed by the sparks flying and the fact that the guy is even paying attention to little old her (think every Jennifer Aniston movie ever made) and it is instead Leo that takes an ‘endearing’ tumble during their first meeting. He rambles and overthinks throughout, beating himself up for signing off a late-night voicemail with “Lots of love? You CREEP! Stop just stop.”
They smoke weed!
A 2017 report from the Cannabis Consumers Coalition said that just as many women consume cannabis as men, yet it is rare to see women lighting up a fat one on screen. Men have always completely dominated weed culture, but shows like Broad City and Ibiza help to break conventions by intertwining smoking naturally with other storylines. Women are often wrongly stereotyped as highly-strung control freaks, which doesn't mesh well with perception of weed -- its ability to relax you and focus you on yourself -- and showing the friends smoking weed on three separate occasions, couldn’t be more revolutionary.
They eat at various points
Now this may not seem so monumental, but showing food actually passing through a woman’s lips is extremely rare. Sure, lots of characters go out to dinner on-screen, but how many times does it show them actually eating? Not a lot. Ibiza shows the women eating food, and thoroughly enjoying it, shown by the realistic silence as they savour their Cinnabon baked goods in in the airport lounge, the only sound escaping them being, “Mmmmmmmmmm.” They make a beeline to the food when they arrive at a fancy party and refuse to go home without a sloppy kebab that same evening -- women after my own heart.
There are no fall outs, only examples of endless support
It is rare for a film not to involve a big bust-up or misunderstanding which pushes the friendships to breaking point, but in Ibiza there is no such moment. The friends show nothing but love and respect for one another, shown most beautifully in the all too real drug-induced club DMC (‘deep meaningful chat’ for those who lived under a rock during secondary school), that includes the exchanges, “You guys are amazing, you’re smart, beautiful and you can do anything you set your mind to,” and “You two people are the most beautiful creatures that ever-set foot in this goddamn planet!” Which receives a chorus of, “No you are!!!”
Harper chooses herself over her relationship with Leo
Though Harper did sacrifice being well rested for an important business meeting to hang out with Leo, she ultimately prioritises herself and her future success, declining a free trip to Tokyo and telling him if he wants to see her again, he can make the effort to come to New York. She is a strong independent woman who would quite like him to be her man, but does not need him to be her man. The film ends as it begun, with Harper on her own on the subway, showing that her life hasn’t magically changed, but her outlook and drive has. Possibly the first rom-com in which the lasting point was not that she ‘got the guy’, Ibiza is the most empowering and real representation of the female experience, much-needed in a time where our summer evenings are taken over by a ‘reality’ show whose entire premise is to get into a relationship.