Big Mouth Is a Refreshingly Frank Comedy About Puberty — Especially for Girls

Big Mouth
Courtesy Netflix.

This post contains spoilers for Big Mouth.

“Listen to me! You want to shoplift lipstick. You want to listen to Lana Del Rey on repeat while you cut up all your T-shirts. You want to scream at your mom and laugh at her tears!”

Netflix’s new animated comedy Big Mouth is primarily about two adolescent boys, but some of its funniest and most refreshing moments—for female viewers, at least—actually come courtesy of its female characters. The show’s most hilarious innovation might be the Hormone Monstress, voiced by Maya Rudolph—the sultry counterpart to Nick Kroll’s gravel-voiced Hormone Monster, who appears to girls as they transition into womanhood.

Viewers first meet Rudolph’s beastly character as she visits Jessi (Jessi Klein), a female classmate of the central duo, Nick (Kroll) and Andrew (John Mulaney). After getting her first period on a class trip to the Statue of Liberty—while wearing white shorts, no less—Jessi is feeling understandably lost and distraught. That is, until the Hormone Monstress shows up to fill her in about what’s coming next. (Cue the line about Lana Del Rey.)

According to Rudolph, who also voices Nick’s mother and a few other minor roles, the role of the Monstress could have been much smaller—until the show’s writers realized her potential. “Now she’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever played,” Rudolph says. “She’s the inner voice that you never get to hear, saying the things that you wish someone would say.”

She might be a monstress, but Rudolph’s main character is also undeniably sensual. She’s got long, lustrous hair and sparkling blue eyes, and also smells fantastic because, as she explains to Jessi in her first appearance, “I don’t use deodorant and I only take bubble baths.”

“She sounds sultry,” Rudolph said. “She sounds furry—like she might even have fur on her tongue. She sounds serpenty and furry . . . and I think she had to match with the hormone monster that Nick was doing. I love her. She kind of has a lion’s mane. She’s fascinating.”

The voice, in particular, is one of the funniest things about the Monstress. Finding the voice was a team effort, Rudolph said, adding that “because she’s so erratic, her voice is meant to change all the time.” There are subtle changes in the exact accent and cadence with which the Hormone Monstress speaks, and her articulation of certain words is particularly funny. That, Rudolph confirms, was intentional: “Once we started recording her, we started to find words that we wanted her to say in a really crazy way, like ‘bubble bath’—making it a juicier word.”

Jessi Klein, who was there when the character was being workshopped, also cited another inspiration: Diana Ross, specifically a particular clip in which the diva performs a concert in Central Park despite a dangerous lightning storm.

“She’s singing in a bright-orange body-glove unitard with an orange cape,” Klein says. “She just steps up to the mic and spreads out her orange cape and she’s like, ‘It’s just rain!’ I told Maya about it. That was my contribution.” Watching the clip, it’s easy to see the parallel between it and Rudolph’s ultimate performance.

“The way I have always felt about [Rudolph] is that she is my hormone monstress,” Klein says. “I see her, and I just feel all my feelings amped up times a million. . . (A) she’s amazing, and(B) I just would immediately flip into that headspace of like, ‘I’ll do whatever you tell me, because you’re Maya Rudolph.’ “

What’s especially fascinating about both Hormone Monsters is how spot-on their one-off jokes can be. For instance, the desire to steal lipstick: “That one really hit home for me,” Rudolph says, “especially because I used to have a weird fascination. Whenever I’d go into a drugstore, it was like, ‘I want to shoplift L’Oréal lipstick. I don’t need it, but I want to put it in my pocket.” Another person who’s had that same thought? Klein, whose sole act of rebellion as a teen was stealing a single tube of pink Wet & Wild lipstick.

“The worst part of it all was it wasn’t even a good one,” Klein says. “It was a really ridiculous color lipstick, but I had to have it. You know what is really tragic and comic about it is, I stole it, it haunted me, I had it in my house—and then my mom, as moms do, I think I want to say she kept it for 20 years, and she occasionally wore it. I think I eventually did mention it to her, decades later, that I’d stolen it—but by that time, it was overshadowed by the fact that my mom really needs to learn when to throw out makeup.”

Funny and relatable as these hijinks can be, the real value of the Hormone Monstress is that she provides a frank, positive outlook on puberty—the sort that has grown a little more common on television but still remains fairly rare. Often, onscreen depictions of puberty are either filled with euphemisms or tinged with dread. But on Big Mouth, exact anatomical terms are common—and though the show is knowingly empathetic about puberty’s most embarrassing moments, there’s also an aura of positivity. Its characters largely support one another—far more than real pre-teens tend to—and in the end, the biggest takeaway appears to be “We’ll all get through this.”

Oh, and lest you think that the girls are saddled with nothing but misery and periods—as the Statue of Liberty herself (voiced by Kroll, using a ridiculous French accent) says—don’t worry; there are plenty of lighter moments for them, too, such as when all the girls in class start reading a sexy book titled The Rock of Gibraltar. For anyone who obsessively read, say, Judy Blume’s Forever in their teen years, the subplot will hit home. It certainly did with Klein, who—like most girls—did, indeed, read Forever several times. At least, one particular scene.

Forever is the Judy Blume book in which the protagonist is a girl who loses her virginity, and what’s amazing is that no one is punished,” Klein said. It’s true; Blume says she wrote the book after her daughter asked her for a story in which ” two nice kids have sex without either of them having to die.” Klein noted that the pivotal sex scene in that book lasts only about a page and a half—but adds, “I remember rereading that page and a half like, one billion times. . . . I read that page so many times that I think every other part of the book was in good shape, and that page dissolved.”

(via Vanity Fair)

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