22 January 2012
Sometimes a girl just goes through a week in which none of her posts get finished. Also there was snow, which in this case was very teeny and powdery and sparkly and demanded my full attention as it fell. (There was also cross-country skiing.)
My long, increasingly unmanageable post, still unfinished, is on my La Jefita (the boss!) Awards in which I celebrate women on & off screen — and in the course of writing it has come to my attention that even all the fucking animals this year were gendered male. Not that this is a new thing. (Bambi was male. Bambi! Explain that to me!)
Now, I’m on record as saying that Caesar the chimp (Andy Serkis) should win Best Actor Oscar this year for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and it’s a sign of how stupid the whole farce of the Academy Awards is that he won’t even be nominated. But let’s think back. All those apes, chimps, monkeys and gorillaz were gendered male. The one simian female was Caesar’s mother, who gets killed off immediately. The ones with names are all male — Maurice, Koba, Buck, Rocket. I’ll bet if you asked audiences, they’d say that they assumed all the rest are dudes, too — especially when they cross the Golden Gate Bridge en masse and overturn cars.
Here’s my radical suggestion: no one will care if you gender some of these animals female instead. Or if you leave their genders ambiguous.
Who’s going to care, for example, whether instead of naming the War Horse Joey, they called it Maggie or Star or Chestnut? I can guarantee that once the horse starts to do noble things, no one’s going to give a shit whether it’s male or female. The one thing I’ll give Tintin — a film I have completely forgotten, it was such a boring sausage-fest of dudes — was that at least the dog’s name was Snowy, even though we all know he was a dude. The most ambiguously ungendered animal onscreen last year was the annoying Paw Paw, the old, sick cat from Miranda July’s The Future. (We never even saw Paw Paw’s face.)
It wasn’t just Snowy: dogs were always male in 2011. There was the lovable Uggie in The Artist, Arthur in Beginners, Hummer in Young Adult, Willie Nelson in Our Idiot Brother. But it was also the ensemble pieces. The only animal in any of the Harry Potter films gendered as female was Hedwig the owl — the rest, Crookshanks, Firenze, Scabbers, Fawkes, even the evil snake Nagini — and anything in the Weasleys’ house, all male.
All male. Why? I don’t get it. What’s so difficult about having a phoenix or a cat be female? What’s so distasteful about having adorable pets that are female? I have two suggestions. First, maybe the concept of male dominance is so crucial to Hollywood that filmmakers cannot imagine having female pets, especially when they’re central to the script like Caesar or Joey the horse.
Or, second, maybe this is connected to the fact that virtually all these films have human male leads and the filmmakers have “reasoned” that men must have male pets/animal counterparts. But if this is the case, I need explanation: please explain to me why it would be problematic for Ewan McGregor’s character to have a female dog. Can it be that filmmakers find it unseemly, somehow sexually inappropriate? Have we sunk that low?
Okay, there are a few ensemble films with some token girls. The Muppets, Winnie the Pooh (but let’s be precise: Kanga is also just a mother to Roo), and even Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked appears to have a girl. Don’t misunderstand me: I haven’t seen that film. What do you take me for?
The most radically gendered ensemble film I can see is Kung Fu Panda 2. That is, both Tigress and Viper are female. Out of about 12 male leads. See what happens when a woman directs a film, like Jennifer Yuh Nelson did in this case? It’s a comparative girl-fest!
Geena Davis started her Institute on Gender in Media because when she started to watch TV with her young daughter, she couldn’t miss the gender disparity. In family films there’s only “one female character for every three male characters. In group scenes, only 17% of the characters are female. The repetitive viewing patterns of children ensure that these negative stereotypes are ingrained and imprinted over and over,” the Institute’s website explains.
As Melissa Silverstein shows us again and again with her brilliant blog Women & Hollywood, children’s media is just the tip of the iceberg. Women appear far less often both on and off screen. Which makes me wonder why Hollywood couldn’t just throw us a bone with a few female pets.
Whichever way you lean — whether we think male dominance is so fundamental to Hollywood that all the animals must be male, or whether we think our male heroes cannot possibly have vital relationships with female animals — I hope you’ll agree with me that this is just really weird.
11 January 2012
I like everything about this plot idea. Beautiful, horrible former high school queen, Mavis (Charlize Theron) is now in her late 30s, living in Minneapolis and ghost writing for a young adult series of novels about high school drama. When she hears her old high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) and his wife have had a baby she decides that he’s The One Who Got Away. She goes back to her small, provincial Minnesota home town to help him escape from what she’s sure is a life in hell. All the while she’s trying to finish writing the last novel for the increasingly unpopular series, which the publishers are about to shelve. Written and directed by the same pair, Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, who produced the snappy Juno (2007) and starring the excellent Theron, the only question is: why doesn’t it quite work?
The problem isn’t Theron, that’s for sure. I’ve only seen her be funny once before (in Arrested Development) and she’s good at it. It’s a tricky part, because she’s such a resolute anti-heroine. She’s just incredibly pretty — and let me say that watching her for 90 minutes almost makes you want to drool in spite of yourself — yet her character is a dark, alcoholic, depressive bitch on wheels. As mean as Mavis is, Theron has to make you feel for her, even against all your better judgment. Within the first 20 minutes I realized something about that horrible girl in my high school: being that pretty can make you paranoid such that you imagine envy and death rays coming out of every other woman’s eyes. (Which made her all the meaner.)
In short: this film is made for all of us who weren’t Mavises in high school, and it’s made for one purpose: so we can delight in her misery. Problem: that’s not really a very good plot.
Here’s my theory: the problem with this story is that ultimately we learn more about the screenwriter than we do about the main character. This woman is more eager to punish Mavis than she is to write a tale that works, and she starts by giving her character zero redeeming qualities. Mavis can clean herself up really nice for Big Appearances, but most of the time she’s dragging around in sweats and with her mascara running — if not passed out, face down, on a convenience piece of furniture. Diablo Cody passes up no opportunity to pile on the list of ugly habits and vicious character traits. After a while you start to think that in writing a story about a woman who never become a real adult, Cody has revealed that she just can’t forgive that bitch.
So at some point around the 2/3 mark, you start to feel the story working against itself. You start to feel that no prom queen, however psycho, would have wound up so utterly pathetic as Mavis. And you grow weary of the litany of humiliations she must endure. Especially because it all contrasts so strikingly with the fact that the camera just loves Theron. Sometimes I wondered whether Reitman and Cody were likewise entranced by her; there’s something schizophrenic about watching Theron slit her eyes like the meanest of all mean girls, yet her mouth is so perfectly shaped that you can’t quite concentrate fully on her meanness.
I also like the idea that she would form a weird friendship with Matt (Patton Oswalt), a guy who was so bullied by Mavis and others in high school that he wound up being brutally beaten and left for dead. He still walks with a crutch and tells her freely that his penis was disfigured at the time, too. Turns out, he’s the one person willing to tell Mavis that she’s delusional and self-destructive — not that it helps, or changes anything. Not that the film really convinces you that Mavis would be friends with Matt.
- you can’t go home again
- small town virtues vs. big city emptiness
- will the shlubby loser wind up being Mr. Right?
- catfight between women
- will damaged anti-heroine heal herself?
Alas. Cody seems to have decided that her ending would avoid the gravitational pull of any of these narratives, and instead offer us something that avoids the sense of an ending at all. It feels, a bit, like she skipped out on us.
I’m looking forward to seeing Theron do more off-kilter parts. But I’m having trouble mustering any enthusiasm for Reitman and Cody. Juno was a spunky little movie — a much better than average, B+/A- kind of flick with an appealing heroine who had lines that were a little bit too good for a high school kid. But they needed more work on the script for Young Adult, a clearer vision for the movie, and less awe of their terrific lead actor. It’s too bad, because they started with a great plot concept.