You never watched it. Okay, if you did, you only saw parts of it, in the dim dark year of 1994. It was roundly panned as a "silly Western" because it had four women doing the things that the Young Guns did, and we all know girls don't do that sort of thing. But despite a supremely dumb title, Bad Girls is a surprisingly good movie.
Look, I don't know Westerns. It's just not my genre. And that's largely because I couldn't relate to a silent, gritty Clint Eastwood smoking his way through an incomprehensible plot until he could shoot someone, or John Wayne "acting" as the exact same growly slow-talker in every movie. Women were largely to be murdered (so as to motivate Our Hero), to be captured and rescued (or not) or to beg Our Hero not to do whatever noble thing he's about to do. In other words, window dressing.
So when they say that Bad Girls is a collection of Western cliches, I can't say they're wrong. To me, all Westerns are a collection of cliches. They comprise a romantic view of the Old West, one that bears as little resemblence to the real West as the pirate movies bear to real piracy. Bad Girls is no more realistic and no less silly than Young Guns, but that movie is loudly proclaimed among the best Westerns.
Bad Girls is a pile of fun with a few dark tinges that may have been lost on the all-male reviewers of its time, the ones who panned it as "silly." To me, there was nothing silly about Madeleine Stowe's hard-edged Cody, or what happens to her. There is nothing silly about women surviving terrible abuses and hardships in a world designed to treat them as property, and not very valuable property at that. Yes, it's annoying that there are moments when men act as saviors, but since the antagonists are also all male, I think that balances out.
The point is, Bad Girls is a story about female friendship, about women working together - and they save each other far more often than a man saves them. It's hard not to enjoy Madeleine Stowe's steely gaze and Drew Barrymore's wild ride, and Mary Stuart Masterson and Andi McDowell are enjoyable as the rest of the quartet. In review after review, the male reviewers mocked the women for looking good in their costumes. Because, of course, male heroes of the Old West always had perfect teeth and looked like Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Lou Diamond Phillips.
There are some dark corners in Bad Girls, mostly revolving around the realities of women's lives in that time. There is plenty of violence, off-camera sexual violence and hints at rape in Cody's past (statutory and not). The church denies them, society shuns them and the only people who deal with them are the scum of the earth. Masterson sums up their world by shouting at a banker who has denied her land claim, "I was worthless until I married, I'm worthless as a widow. Funny, I had some value as a whore."
It's odd that the people who complained about Bad Girls being unrealistic also complained about the violence they survived, being victimized young and forced into lives where they must be dependent on a man or outcast as unnatural. They felt it was anti-feminist that these women saw their only options to be Madonna or whore, even as the foursome rejected those roles and paid dear prices for their rebellion. Did the movie sin by being unrealistic, or too realistic?
When I go looking for strong female leads, there are damned few in the Hollywood pantheon. Madeleine Stowe cuts a new cloth in Bad Girls, one that I enjoyed watching - even if there were more than a few places where I winced in sympathy. If I've got to watch a Western, I can do a lot worse than Bad Girls.