I love dysfunctional female characters. Perhaps it's my ego- I like seeing the personality defects I don't have. Or perhaps I enjoy watching them act out on their dysfunction in a way I never would (but might want to) like telling that asshole at the supermarket to just fuck off.
For Halloween this year, I dressed up as Regina George's mother from Mean Girls.
I love Amy Poehler enough as it is, but this character oozes dysfunction in such a glorious way. One day a week, her daughter's little clique is required to wear pink. Mrs. George, thinking she's a member of the teenage clique, follows the rules dutifully. She wants so desperately to be a part of her daughter's high school circle, but she's not.
Allison Janney plays dysfunction like a pro. I had a hard time deciding if I was going to write about her character in The Way Way Back or in Away We Go. In the former, she's a lush who hates her ex-husband and openly criticizes her children. In the latter, she's a lush who hates her husband and openly criticizes her children. In both movies, she's desperately lonely.
One of my "I can watch this while folding laundry movies" is Spanglish. Tea Leoni's character is so ragingly broken, I could eat her dysfunction with a spoon. She's wound so tightly that she can't go jogging without stressing out the people she passes by. And she's so selfish that she makes her infidelity all about her.
This is possibly my favorite character in film: Frances McDormand in Friends with Money. I don't think she was dysfunctional 20 years before the movie takes place- I think she grew into it, like a tomato sitting at the bottom of a bowl for weeks. She got tired of everything and everyone. She lost her joy.
(sorry for the subtitles- I couldn't find a better clip on YouTube.)
Other beauties are Kathryn Hahn in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days , Laura Dern in Enlightened, and Catherine Keener in Lovely & Amazing (also by Nicole Holofcener, who also wrote Friends with Money - girl knows how to write dysfunctional women.)
Write characters you can sink your teeth into. Write characters you absolutely adore (though wouldn't necessarily invite to dinner.) Figure out who really interests you, and build them from the ground up. They're yours. Don't be shy.
And don't forget to have them be a little dysfunctional.