May: A Pitch Royal Tomorrowland 2

Posts, The Other Movie Project

Welcome to The Other Movie Project! (Please click on the link if you are not sure what the Project is.)

I am back and tireder than ever. If you follow my podcast Just A Spoonful you may know that I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, a condition as painful to live with as it is to spell. Since my movie load has bumped up to around 12 films a month – TWELVE, which is of course AWESOME – I have not been able to keep up with my viewing for this project. Between illness, other projects and my regular work, I hope you can understand why I might not get to every movie each month. Oh, and we’re calling April ‘the Gas Leak Month’.

Since my brain is in a state of constant brown-out I’ll just be updating this blog whenever I can get to it. I hope you don’t mind, and I really appreciate all the support you’ve been giving this project on Twitter. You all are the best. OK, let’s see what the non-white-guys were up to in cinemas near me this May. 1. A Royal Night Out

A promising set-up – two cloistered princesses, granted a rare night of revelry on the night the whole country is celebrating – unfortunately goes nowhere.

I guess it couldn’t go anywhere, really, since the subjects are real-life Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Princess Margaret. And since their family owns most of the British Isles it must be hard to take any great risks when portraying their story. (Although I’m sure 14 year-old Princess Margaret getting drunk in a ‘knocking shop’ will be risky enough for most senior audiences.) It’s charming to see the nineteen year-old Princess Elizabeth imagined as she might have been before the dour sovereign we’re all familiar with.

The film is based on true events – apparently the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret did in fact slip out of Buckingham Palace on 8 May 1945 (the formal end of World War II in Europe) to go party with the rest of London. But A Royal Night Out makes the mistake of splitting up the princesses early in the movie (whose chemistry is the most interesting of the film), and chasing a dull romantic subplot instead. In the film’s imagining, Princess Elizabeth gets separated from her sister and enlists the help of a random Naval Officer, who plays the role of cranky commoner/love interest.

He is handsome and hates the King, she is pretty and the King’s daughter but it’s a SECRET, will they won’t they oh no class divides blah blah blah. Sorry, but it was pretty boring. Sarah Gadon as Elizabeth is great, but the invented Naval Officer ‘Jack’ is an embarrassing sketch of a working class Londoner. And even though Jack has a pretty sympathetic back story and a reasonably bleak future ahead of him, somehow we end up being positioned to feel sorry for the Royal Family? Sitting down for breakfast in their dining room the size of the war veteran’s house? And oh thank goodness Jack’s realised the King is actually a pretty good guy? Republicans will hate this.

I didn’t hate it, but I did realise very early into the film that I was not its target audience. My presence in the cinema must have brought the median age down to about 56. I’d thought, seeing as it was a film about two young women, I might be about to watch the pacey adventure of two bright, powerful and independently wealthy young women having their first exciting taste of freedom. That’s in there a bit – Princess Margaret steals most of the best scenes – but mostly it’s an unfocussed and slightly turgid love letter to the monarchy.

2. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Twenty-nine year-old Kumiko is dissatisfied with her dead-end Tokyo job and shows no particular interest in her friends or family. At night she sits alone in her cramped apartment, fast-forwarding and rewinding an old VHS tape of the American film Fargo. And Kumiko is taking detailed notes.

She is convinced that Fargo was a true story, and that there is still treasure buried out there somewhere under the Minnesota snow. This premise is a little heavily laid-on, with what I thought were excessive cuts to Kumiko taking out her Fargo maps and staring at them. We get it, she wants to go to Fargo. We know it so well that, although I loved the film’s characterisation of middle-class life in Tokyo, it seems like a long time before Kumiko actually sets off on her quest. In fact, it’s about 45 minutes before the film gets to Minnesota. I began to get impatient during the first half of the film, wanting to set off on the journey already, thinking “Why are we still here??”. Afterwards I realised, hey, that was probably exactly how Kumiko felt. And I was empathising with her. Well played, Zellner Brothers.

The thing is, Kumiko is kind of a jerk. She is surly, she lies, and she seems to have no compunction about stealing – even from charity shops and visually impaired taxi drivers. She is rude and unfriendly and ungrateful for the kindness of anyone who helps her. And that doesn’t change, all the way through the movie. She definitely doesn’t learn the error of her ways. But I found myself wanting her to succeed. Kumiko clearly has difficulty connecting with other people. Her only friend is Bunzo, her pet rabbit (who is actually called Bunzo in real life and I want to break all of Queensland’s laws to adopt it). Kumiko is fed up with banality.

She styles herself as a Spanish conquistador and sets off for The New World to claim the treasure she has ‘discovered’. And that’s the thing about conquistadors – I don’t remember them having much compunction about taking other people’s stuff. Looking at it from Kumiko’s view, her mission makes perfect sense. This treasure is her destiny, why would she lose focus on it for even a moment?

Rinko Kikuchi, as Kumiko, is simply perfect. Using little more than facial expression, she brings complexity to a character that could easily have been under-served by the spare script. Her physicality is impressive, almost clowning – but a tragic clown.

Knowing a little about the real events this film is based on, I wondered how the Zellner Brothers would bring this sad tale to a satisfying close. I was wondering that even up to the final minutes of the film. But, they actually nailed it. And the film never smashes the prism of enchantment that hangs around it. It probably helps to be a fan of Fargo (the movie), but I didn’t find that tripping me up in any way. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a beautiful film.

cynthia-rose-bellas3. Pitch Perfect 2

Full disclosure here: Pitch Perfect is easily one of my favourite recent comedies. I have watched it more times than I would like to disclose. I knew I was probably not going to be satisfied with the sequel, no matter what they did, because the original was so precious to me.

I was correct. Pitch Perfect 2 suffers from too many locations, unnecessary exposition, and too many new characters added to an already beefy cast. This was too bad because I adore Elizabeth Banks, producer on Pitch Perfect and first-time director on Pitch Perfect 2, and hoped her directing debut would be as excellent as she is. However I couldn’t help noticing the awkward edits undercutting scenes where the comedic talent was so good that all you needed to do was get out of their way.

But again, my expectations were set high for this film based on how quick and funny I found the first one. There are moments of brilliance and genuine heart-feelings. There are some fun developments in the sequel, like old a capella rival Bumper having graduated and joined the team of sad toolies who haunt campus parties insisting they’re still relevant. And a particular scene involving a canoe makes full use of Rebel Wilson as a comedy actor and singer. This movie is a feel-good spectacle and I enjoyed the ride, minus several cringes at fat shaming, American flag-waving, and bafflingly frequent jokes about Guatemala. Guatemala? What did they ever do to you??

Full credit to Elizabeth Banks for continuing a franchise helmed by a team of funny women whose motivations have nothing to do with men. Even in heralded ‘female comedy’ Bridesmaids, the plot centered around a hetero wedding. And Kristen Wiig had to show her emotional development by getting together with the Irish policeman. In Pitch Perfect 2, the women’s focus is on community, self-fulfillment, and the legacy they will leave behind. Relationships with dudes are secondary.

All that being said, the movie’s main conflict is kicked off by the world getting furious about seeing Rebel Wilson’s vagina. A subtle critique of misogyny and cultural anxiety about the female body? Or just a way to be edgy and show people screaming at a vagina? I don’t know, I’m tired. I liked this movie okay?

Final comments: more Ester Dean, always and forever. Look at how much Ester Dean you’ve put into your film, then double it.

Athena quietly wishes they had come up with a better name than Tomorrowland.

4. Tomorrowland

This tweet sums up my exact reaction to seeing this film:

I loved it? This was one of those films where you feel good during the ending, but as you walk away from the cinema you’re like, “Wait, why did they? And where was the? And they killed all those people??”

Tomorrowland was not what I expected at all. The trailer did not do it any favours. It was intense, well-paced, and juuuust this side of tacky. The movie is about a sort of parallel dimension called Tomorrowland where everyone rides monorails and wears jumpsuits and anything is possible. It’s basically Disneyland in the 90s. I was a kid in the 90s, and for me the gleaming monorails and curving concrete structures immediately evoke the dream of the future that Disneyland was selling: clean, shiny, the happiest place on Earth.

And like Disneyland in the 90s, Tomorrowland is in decline. The world is losing hope. They need heroes to change the direction of the tide, to move the world back from the brink of destruction. This can only be done by ‘special’ people, like the cringingly named protagonist, Casey – sigh – Newton. Oh guess what she loves science! And she is apparently still in school even though she looks 25 and drives a motorbike around? I found this a genuine impediment to believability in the film, although this may be a cultural divide between America and Australia. Or maybe I’m just a city girl who wishes she was allowed to have her own motorbike in high school.

Even though the world must be saved by people with ‘special abilities’, I didn’t find this exclusionary or, the gods help us, Randian, because their special ability is optimism and it is infectious. The heroes are people who ‘haven’t given up’, who do the work that needs to be done and pull everyone else up with them. Eventually we could all be heroes. It is a beautiful sentiment and I found the ending quite moving despite its potential to be cloying.

How was this movie not cloying? Well, it has some pretty kick-ass fight scenes involving a 12-year-old girl named Athena who can drive a truck like it’s stolen (it is; she stole it). There are fun cameos from Keegan Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn. George Clooney has a great face. But the reason I really liked it was because it slow-walks the viewer through the actual threat facing the world and how the heroes prevent it.

This is a movie for young people. Like many contemporary young adult narratives, it is weighted down with the horror of the broken world we must inherit. Failing economies; inaction on climate change; society-wide distrust and violence. It’s sad. But Tomorrowland offers realistic hope: don’t give up on the world. Despair only causes more despair, but hope encourages more hope. Hugh Laurie delivers a magnificent speech towards the film’s climax about humanity’s choice to let the world burn if it meant they didn’t have to do anything. A Disneyfied riff on the kind of movie I was watching when I was in high school, when Hugo Weaving was telling Keanu Reeves “human beings are a disease”.

Tomorrowland has the classic Disney race problem. Oh sure, there are plenty of diverse ethnicities represented in the background and bit parts, but funnily enough all of the lead roles (and nearly all of the dialogue) goes to white people. It becomes more obvious when you see plenty of Asian, black and Indian people walking around Casey and co. but only hear white people speaking.

Oh and George Clooney is just trolling us now, with his biggest age gap yet: his love interest in this film is 12 years old. He is 54. Nothing really happens, but more happens that it should, you know? It’s borderline is what I’m saying.

But still, I liked Tomorrowland. I think I liked it? So much happened. Wait, why did they kick George Clooney out of Tomorrowland in the first place? And why didn’t he have a relationship with anyone other than a 12-year-old cyborg since he was 18? Oh damn, I don’t think this film made sense at all. Never mind.

Other movies released near me in May that were NOT about white men:

(The ones I didn’t have time to watch!)

5. PIKU (India)

6. Unfriended (US)

7. Testament of Youth (UK)

8. Bombay Velvet (India)

9. Salut d’Amour (South Korea)

10. Spy (US)

11. Woman In Gold (US)

12. San Andreas (US)

Number of movies released near me in May that WERE about white men:

SIX! Holy shit, well done film industry!

mad-max-fury-road-mask

*Rages incoherently*

A word (or 200) about Mad Max: Fury Road

A few people have asked me if I was going to review Mad Max: Fury Road for The Other Movie Project. Now, I freaking LOVED this film, but it doesn’t qualify for this project and here’s why:

a. It is about Mad Max.

b. Mad Max is a white man.

End of list.

I know many people have been arguing that the film is actually about Imperator Furiosa (the wonderful, WONDERFUL Charlize Theron), but for the purposes of this movie blog, it is not. The movie, titled MAD MAX, follows the story of MAD MAX while he comes to terms with his identity as MAD MAX. We hear his inner monologue, see most of the film from his point of view, and he has the biggest arc. (He goes from angry guy only worried about himself, to angry guy helping a group of women and one cute warboy.) Yes, Imperator Furiosa is the more interesting protagonist and I would follow her into the gaping maw of Death itself. But we only find out her internal workings through what she tells Max and what Max sees when she finds her old tribe. However, I hear rumours that the next Mad Max film will be officially and unreservedly about Furiosa, and WOULDN’T THAT BE FUCKING COOL. If I’m mistaken and the rumour isn’t true, let’s all find George Miller’s email address and make it true.

Now, please excuse me while I start building a pretend prosthetic arm in time to cosplay as Furiosa for Halloween.

My hero.

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March: Insurging Through My Top Five Cinderellas

Posts, The Other Movie Project

This installment in The Other Movie Project blog is a bit late and I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, but let’s kick on and insurge through the new movies showing in March that were not about white men!

1. Chappie

I don’t know what to make of this movie. Its sentimentality is at times sickening, but its handling of serious themes is also weirdly flippant. And the ending does not feel earned at all.

Dev Patel is wonderful as always, and I look forward to telling him so during our inevitable courtship. Hugh Jackman is one of my favourite movie villains of the past few years. With his tough guy mullet and biology teacher shorts, he is a very believable toxic macho Australian bully boy. Imagine a guy like that getting in charge of military operations. Terrifying.

Where did that come from

Imagine.

There are two female characters (who do not speak to each other): Sigourney Weaver and Yolandi from Die Antwoord. They portray, respectively, Sigourney Weaver and Yolandi from Die Antwoord. Weaver appears infrequently to yell “NOPE” at a male character, and Yolandi becomes “Mummy” to Chappie, then eventually dies so that Chappie can feel sad and motivated about it. That’s not a spoiler because what else did you think could happen?

Back to Chappie himself – why did I never doubt that he was a ‘him’? All of the characters assume his maleness from the get-go. But he’s a robot? He doesn’t have biology? On looking back, this movie may not actually qualify for The Other Movie Project. Chappie is voiced by a man of the whitest order, but I’d thought the movie was mainly about Dev Patel. Nope. It turned out to be about a white man dressed as a robot. Tricked again.

2. Top Five

This is the first really funny movie I’ve seen this year. And I. Loved. It. The storytelling is tight and the performances are great. Chris Rock can say a lot with an eye-squint. And he has created an actual woman role for the wonderful Rosario Dawson, who reads like an  Actual Real Woman.

The movie’s attitude towards women is surprisingly positive (I say ‘surprisingly’ because I’ve seen Chris Rock’s stand-up), other than some eye-rolly moments of mansplaining on Chris Rock’s part. For example: “You know you’re beautiful, right?” SHE KNOWS, CHRIS. PRETTY SURE ROSARIO DAWSON OWNS A MIRROR.

There are undertones of homophobia (Dawson becomes disgusted with her boyfriend when he shows enjoyment of butt play, and instead of talking to him about it violates his body because of course), which I found frankly disturbing. Other people say it better than I can.

Also troubling is the main character’s anecdote about his “rock-bottom moment”, in which he watches two women with whom he was having a threesome, have a threesome with another man. They turn from “angels” to “disgusting” in his eyes, and he appears traumatised. Something something, gate-keeping of female sexuality, something.

Oh and later, when the women are annoyed about something, they immediately yell “rape”. Awesome.

3. Focus

This should have been much more interesting. Like, we know Will Smith is charming, right? We know he’s charismatic? So how come it barely came through in this movie? Instead, I guess the FRESH Prince comes off … a little STALE.

I"m proud of myself.

I”m proud of myself.

Focus has never heard of the Bechdel Test. Margot Robbie has the only female speaking role in the movie. Oh, I’m sorry, there is another female speaking part – one woman says “OK” to Will Smith when he asks her for money. Good hustle, team!

Margot Robbie – or, to use her proper name, Donna from Neighbours – is the best thing in this movie. She is funny, engaging and cool. She is also insanely beautiful. Which is another thing about Focus – for having two such charming leads, it is surprisingly sexless. It’s mostly too preoccupied with grinding through complicated plot set-ups. I got a bit lost in the details. Or maybe I just needed to … FOCUS.

Hooo, TWO of them! What!

Hooo, TWO of them! What!

Points to Focus for having a twist ending that actually surprised me – and I think it played on the audience’s expectations of race in a pretty smart way. Well played, Focus.

4. Insurgent

I have already forgotten this movie.

Still, it was pretty cool to see a scene in which the female villain (Kate Winslet) taunts the female hero (Shailene Woodley) that her mother (Ashley Judd) was not all that she seemed. Bechdel Test: exploded into a million pieces of glittering CGI.

Octavia Spencer shows up for a minute at the beginning of the film to dole out life advice to the little white girl and then disappears forever. Guys, this is not okay. There’s a name for this trope, but I’ll let Octavia explain it.

5. Cinderella

I spent most of this clunkasaurus looking at Twitter (dropping my phone only when Our Lady of Perfection Cate Blanchett was in frame).

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.29 pmThe little kids in the cinema seemed pretty content, but even they were watching in silence.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.15 pmAt this point I started wriggling in my seat and pining for a juicebox.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.06 pmTurns out I wasn’t being paranoid, I was just noticing the actual physical distress that her body was in.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.37 pmHow do you fit your crown over that massive fedora, prince.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 1.00.07 pm“Women just love shoes lol!!”

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.58.49 pmGame of Thrones is probably closer to the original Brothers Grimm tales anyway.

6. A Little Chaos

More Kate Winslet! As a landscape-gardener in 17th century France! But unlike in Insurgent, she has non-ridiculous dialogue to say. However, this is kind of a strange film. The direction (by Alan Rickman) is … odd. Scene transitions are awkward. And the central romance between Winslet and a plank of wood Matthias Schoenaerts is so unconvincing that supporting characters have to keep remarking upon how convincing the couple’s romance is. In case we forgot that they were in love. Because I did.

My favourite thing about this film is that we have a protagonist who is clearly living with post-traumatic stress syndrome, but the main conflict does not arise from her mental health issues. Rather, the cause of her trauma is revealed in well-paced flashbacks and serves to provide greater depth to the character. The main narrative conflicts have to do with class, social structures, and the ol’ struggle of progress versus tradition.

It was pleasant to watch a period drama with a female protagonist who is trying to get her job done despite many obstacles, both internal and external. Some scenes are quite moving, and if Rickman had cut out or reworked the awkward romantic storyline this would have been a much better film.

Number of movies released near me in March that were about white men:

Nineteen.

FYI (French Your Information):

There was also the French Film Festival on during March, which I haven’t counted in my project, because I just couldn’t afford to see that many movies during one month. However, I counted up the FFF films:

French movies about white men: 31.

French movies about anyone who wasn’t a white man: 15.

Some of the films are getting a post-festival release in my local cinemas so I will get to see some French films, don’t you worry. (And not ‘A Little Chaos’ French, where everyone is British.)

And, just for fun:

Of all movies released so far this year that were about a female protagonist, the character was a white blonde woman in 57 per cent of them.

February: The Second Best Jupiter Ascending Over Selma And Alice

Posts, The Other Movie Project

Whoa! February actually achieved parity in white-dude and non-white-dude movies released near me! I didn’t even manage to watch all of the films that qualified for my project, for reasons I will explain further on. What is my project? I have challenged myself to watch every movie released at a cinema near me that is not The Story of A White Guy. I am interested in how intersectionality affects my movie-going choices, so I am watching every movie available that is about a woman and/or a person of colour.

Still Alice Twitter screen shot

1. Still Alice

I put on my pinkest pants and my most mentally healthy head and made sure I was exposed to plenty of sunshine and put chocolate in my purse and then I went to see Still Alice.

I needed every self-care strategy I had.

Still Alice is the story of Alice (Julianne Moore), a linguistics professor who finds out she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. We watch her deteriorate on-screen. It is brutal. Thank goodness the cinema was nearly empty and I was sitting up the back because I wept from credits to credits. Yet the film is gentle, elegant. Not only is Julianne Moore the queen of everything, but the film direction makes sure the story is told from her character’s perspective. I didn’t notice until the end of the film that none of the action takes place out of Alice’s presence; it is entirely her experience of the disease. So often, stories about devastating illness focus on the experience of the people who must care for the ill person, but Still Alice never stops being about Alice.

Kristen Stewart is wonderful as Alice’s youngest daughter, who steps up to play a major role in her mother’s care. “Thank you for asking,” Alice says to her daughter when asked what Alzheimer’s feels like. Still Alice shows us the creativity with which Alice manages her condition, and her determination not to lose herself. It asks, What is it like to live with this? As someone with a debilitating and poorly understood disease, I was grateful to this movie for asking.

2. Selma

The first movie released near me this year to be about a person of colour, and, unbelievably, the first theatrical movie ever to feature Martin Luther King Jr as a main character. No, really. The first. And it took Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay to push it through.

I knew this movie was about Martin Luther King Jr, but I’m going to have to step up right now and admit that I thought Selma was the name of a female character. My US Civil Rights’ Movement history is sorely lacking. But you don’t need much prior knowledge to be affected by the significance of the film’s events. It is narratively tight; the movie opens in the town of Selma, at a time when King is already an influential civil rights leader and African-American people have won the legal right to vote. But legal rights haven’t translated into equal rights, with black people still being blocked from voting by systemic racism. King fights to raise support for the Voting Rights Act through a historic march from Selma to Alabama’s capital. The opposition to something as simple as the equal right to vote is violent, ugly and all too familiar, with scenes reminiscent of Ferguson.

Let’s go back to the thing about Selma being the first MLK film. I found out while researching this post that most films about the American Civil Rights era have accessed the events through a white character (for example, The Help). David Oyelowo, who plays King in Selma, has said:

“There was a study done around the police in a certain state in this country, and they admitted that there is an inherent fear of the black male … So subconsciously or consciously, to have black powerful men driving the narrative as protagonists is frightening for America. And frightening for Hollywood. Subconsciously there is an allergy to it.”

It is indicative of my blind spot as a white person that, although I’ve always admired MLK, I had no idea that he’d never been the main character in a movie about him.

Selma contains breathtaking moments of violence, all the more shocking because they jump out between talky scenes of bureaucracy and strategy meetings. The movie also features a particular moment during which I punched the air and shout-whispered “WINFREY!” Oprah is so, so good in this, and she also co-produces. Selma cements its feminist cred by being directed by the first African-American woman to be nominated for a best director Golden Globe, and by passing the Bechdel Test with flying colours (thanks to one of my favourite scenes, in which one African-American woman speaks at length to another African-American woman on why she is proud of her ancestry).

If this is still showing near you, go out and see it.

3. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Alternate tag lines I suggested to no one:
‘The Sequel That’s Keeping It Dench’
‘The Dames Are Back In Town’
‘Downton Abbey Lost Its Money And Moved To India’

the-best-exotic-marigold-hotelI was charmed by the first Best Exotic Marigold movie, and the sequel did not disappoint. This is sweet comfort viewing, dripping with fairy lights and even a couple of dance breaks. The sequel builds on the first movie’s already large ensemble cast, adding Richard Gere, Black Books‘ Tamsin Greig, and a bigger part for the formidable Lilette Dubey. Sonny (Dev ‘I’ve Been In Love With Him Since Skins‘ Patel) wants to open a second hotel before his wedding, with the help of reformed racist Muriel Donnelly (Maggie ‘Dame By Name, Dame By Nature’ Smith), but his myopic ambition is threatening his relationships. Will he learn his wedding dance in time to save his marriage? Will they find out who is the mysterious spy sent to appraise their hotel? Will Bill Nighy make it through a complete sentence? It’s all adorable and I love it.

There were quite a few moments in the movie where I balked at what seemed like blithe colonialism: white gentry moving in and taking Indian jobs (leading regional tours even though they have to have a local child feed them information). But I thought there was poetic justice in the way Sonny gets his second hotel in the end (spoiler!), and the property he takes over is the Viceroy Club – a leftover of British colonialism. The last we see of the ‘White People’ Club’s romanesque columns, they are being decked out for an Indian wedding reception. It seemed right.

I enjoyed watching a movie that represented younger and older generations without resorting to ageist stereotypes or confected intergenerational warfare. It just avoids progressivism, however, by falling into the sequel trap of attempting to tie up all their stories with neat (hetero-normative, monogamous) bows. I note with interest that the franchise’s only gay character (played by Tom Wilkinson) died in the first movie after a lifetime of unrequited love. But look, the straight people are dancing!

Look, the main thing for me was that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel begins and ends with the Dowager Countess Maggie ‘McGonagall’ Smith, and you can’t go wrong with that. I found it genuinely uplifting, and frankly I needed that after Still Alice and Selma.

4. Fifty Shades of Grey

The movie adaptation of the book that reportedly romanticises an abusive relationship. I wondered if Fifty Shades would even qualify for this project, since the title refers to its white male protagonist (antagonist?), Christian Grey. But a quick skim of the internet showed that the story is about Anastacia Steele’s emotional journey/’erotic awakening’. I don’t know how true that is, because I have not seen the movie. I am not going to see this movie. At least, not at this time. I am sorry – to the people who said they were looking forward to my review, and to consistency for breaking it – but I just cannot. Not for political reasons, although I have those; I’m avoiding Fifty Shades of Grey for personal reasons. At the top of this post I talked about self-care, and this is me doing that. However I would like to note that this is not a stance against BDSM or erotica or romance – or even Twilight fan-fiction – in any way. I just don’t have the spoons to watch something that potentially dresses up abuse as romance.

5. The Wedding Ringer

I also missed this Kevin Hart comedy, not for any reason other than I was travelling and did not have time to catch it. I will try to watch it soon and include it in a later post.

6. Jupiter Ascending

Fuck, this was bonkers. Channing Tatum was a dog person? Mila Kunis nearly married her grown-up son? Eddie Redmayne was trying to be Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element crossed with Richard Roxburgh in Moulin Rouge if both of them had had lip implants?

I almost didn’t watch Jupiter Ascending for this project because, based on the trailers, I’d thought it was about Channing ‘White Guy’ Tatum, with Mila Kunis as his romantic interest/trophy to save. In fact, most of the marketing made it seem this way. I didn’t even realise until I was watching the movie that Jupiter is the name of Mila Kunis’s character. The movie is all about her: she is the title character; she has the main arc; she is in nearly every scene; she even narrates the introduction! Channing Tatum is her helper friend. And yet, this is how the billing was listed wherever I looked:

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia

From IMDB

From IMDB

From the trailer's YouTube description

From the trailer’s YouTube description

From the poster

From the poster

… And please don’t tell me Tatum is the ‘bigger name’. Mila Kunis was in Black Swan, people. BLACK. SWAN.

Anyway, I didn’t hate this film. It was fun. They went BIG. Mila Kunis is endlessly watchable and got a few good laughs from the audience. (Eddie Redmayne got the only other laugh, unintentionally. Sorry Eddie.) The cast was diverse, for Hollywood, and it was exciting to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw (from the seriously underrated 2013 film Belle) pop up. In fact, instead of watching Jupiter Ascending, maybe you should go find a copy of Belle. Belle is great. Watch Belle.

If you’re still not sure whether you are someone who would enjoy Jupiter Ascending, it is easy to find out: does the following phrase appeal to you? ‘AMERICAN-AUSTRALIAN SPACE OPERA.’

My answer was yes.

Number of movies released near me during February that were about white men:

Five! Not bad, world.

January: Into The Woods, Wild

Posts, The Other Movie Project

This is the first post for my 2015 blog project, The Other Movie Project. I am challenging myself to watch every single movie showing near me that is not about a white guy. For the month of January, I found two movies that qualified. Two. Find out more about The Other Movie Project here.

Into The Woods

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 10.21.43 pm
Tricked by posters and IMDB and cinema listing citing the lead actor as Meryl Streep, I thought Into The Woods would be a movie about a kick-ass witch who is unexpectedly complex and sings touching songs and has long chats with other complex female characters. Or, Into The Woods was about Emily Blunt, or Anna Kendrick. So many rad ladies in this ensemble cast, it had to qualify! So I went to see it, and discovered that it was actually a story about a whiny baker man.

Though there is a large cast of characters, all of their stories somehow center around The Baker (played by white guy James Corden). Emily Blunt The Baker’s Wife is also there, who is named The Baker’s Wife even though we are introduced to both of them in the bakery at once, both very definitely and very equally baking. Like bakers. Although I suppose technically what Emily Blunt is doing is baker’s-wifing. She is a prominent character but I’ll get to why the story isn’t about her in a minute. The action really begins with the witch (The Indomitable Streep) bursting into the bakery and telling The Baker that she put a curse on his family over beans or something. She gives James Corden and Emily Blunt a series of tasks to complete and a clear deadline and disappears to go advance the plot somewhere else. Then begins a tediously recurring conversation in which James Corden tells Emily Blunt to stay home while he goes on adventures because he is The Baker and she is only The Baker’s Wife.

The rest of the movie is James Corden learning lessons and growing as a man and realising that his wife may actually be more competent than him, while his wife runs around doing most of the work and then dies so that The Baker can feel sad about it. The finale of the movie is all the remaining woman and children (those not killed in the giant attacks caused by Beanstalk Jack’s reckless disregard for other people’s property) gathering around James Corden and asking if they can go home with him. There you have it. James Corden learned to sort of respect his wife. James Corden learned not to abandon his baby. James Corden learned to be a leader. James Corden is rewarded with a family and Cinderella The New Baker’s Wife. The emotional arc is James Corden’s. James Corden narrates the whole damn film. Into The Woods is about James Corden. So tricked.

This movie had so many holes, and most of them were fallen into by female characters. The greatest threat to life in this movie was Falling Over. Jack’s mother (unnamed) is killed by being pushed over. The powerful, terrifying giant (“a female giant!!”) perishes by lying down unexpectedly. Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt fall out of frame and presumably die, without warning or fanfare. I was sure they were fake-outs, and kept waiting for them to spring back into frame, the witch cackling and Emily Blunt saying “Surprise Baker, I’m back, now get your cow eyes off Anna Kendrick”. I was gobsmacked because I naively thought the whole “helpless women sprain their ankles at inopportune moments” trope had died with the 70s.

And feminism dies with the last words spoken by a female character in this film: “Yes [indicates male character], I will come live at your house. There are times when I actually like cleaning!”

FUUUUUCK.*

(All that said, I really loved the scene where the two campy princes sing a campy song about their man-feelings atop a waterfall. Would like to see re-released as a Cracked short film titled Princes Have Feelings.)

*I have been told that Into The Woods is not a great film adaptation of the original Broadway musical, which I haven’t seen, so please know that I am only critiquing the movie as a stand-alone text. I hold out hope that the stage musical makes a tonne more sense.

Wild

Out of the woods and into the wild. All the promotion I’d seen for this Reese Witherspoon vehicle made it look, frankly, super boring. Promoted clips were mostly of her walking, looking tired, or fiddling with her shoes. The general impression I got from reviews and people’s comments was that the central character, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), was unlikeable and had “made a lot of really bad life choices”. I’d seen Sean Penn’s Into The Wild (2007) a few years ago and thought, OK, I guess I’m about to see the girl version of that.

Nope, nope, nope.

Wild was so much better.

Wild is glorious. I recommend that you go see this if you can. I did not find it boring for a second, and I don’t know why I had that impression. I hope it’s down to poor marketing, and not too much to internalised sexism.

I don’t want to make too many direct comparisons to Into The Wild, but it’s so easy. Where in Into The Wild Emile Hirsch’s McCandless felt inscrutable and self-satisfied, Witherspoon’s Cheryl Strayed is someone I could relate to. We are invited into her inner monologue, her motivations, her meditations on her own flaws. I felt wholly invested in this character. When I saw Into The WIld, I couldn’t help thinking that the film idealised McCandless’s abandonment of his family. Wherever he went, he always seemed so pleased with himself. Yet Wild doesn’t rely on sweeping vistas to insert poignancy into the narrative. Strayed’s backstory is revealed in well-paced flashbacks, and the scenes between her and her mother (Laura Dern) are so painful it’s perfect.

One criticism would be that too much is made of Strayed’s promiscuous past when the narrative calls for examples of her “bad life choices”. However, just when it looks like slut-shaming, Strayed has a one-night stand that has nothing to do with self-destruction and everything to do with her own pleasure. She is complex and has agency. Thank the Lady Witherspoon (who optioned Strayed’s book and got this movie off the ground with her own money).

It is a rare movie that shows a variety of male micro-aggressions against women from a woman’s perspective, and futhermore presents them as incidental to the story. Male entitlement is part of Wild‘s landscape, no more or less than rattlesnakes and empty water tanks. And, blessedly, we don’t have to witness any graphic violence. Casual sexism aimed at Strayed isn’t a ‘primer’ for some awful act; it is the act in itself. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that captured this particular social phenomenon so accurately. And it was done with wit and compassion. Good stuff.

Number of movies showing near me during January that were about white men:

Thirteen.

Also notable:

Out of the two movies I saw (Into The Woods and Wild), I recall only one speaking role occupied by a person of colour. So, yep. Not great.

The Other Movie Project: Here we go!

The Other Movie Project

For 2015, I have challenged myself to watch every single movie released in a cinema near me that is not a story about a white guy. Is the movie about a woman, or a man who is not white? I must watch it. Is the movie about someone who does not identify within the gender binary? Heaven help me, I must watch it, because it would be wonderful to see.

I’ve noticed how many movies (and TV shows and books and articles and narratives in general) centre around a white guy. If a woman or a man of colour does occupy a leading role in a film, they are almost always an offsider or partner to a white guy. They’re the love interest, the villain, or the best friend. They’re the other character. I am pushing myself to challenge this internalised bias, that stories about white men are inherently more valuable. I feel like I’ve watched plenty of movies that follow the emotional journeys of white men. I want to watch the other movies.

So I’m putting my money where my mouth is. If a film is released in a cinema near me, and the narrative centres around a woman and/or a person of colour, I will go buy a ticket and watch it. Movies about women of colour? Bonus points!

By seeking out movies about non-white-guys, I’ll have to actively notice how many movies are about white guys. At this point, I’m not sure what the stats are. I might end up watching hardly any movies for this project. I might end up spending heaps on movie tickets (I kind of hope so). How do industry statistics translate into session times at Australian cinemas? I’m going to find out, at least for Brisbane.

After each month is over, I’ll blog about the movies I saw (and the ones I didn’t). First post coming soon. Here we go!

Ermagerd I made a podcast

Just A Spoonful Podcast

My baby is aliiiive! It’s real: an idea that I conceived to distract me while I was stressed and working dumb hours to get Not Much To Tell You ready for Metro Arts/Queensland Poetry Festival. I was struggling because my health hit one of its low periods a couple of weeks before the theatre season began. Cue panic attacks, clutching chai teas and wailing “WHY THE FUCK DO I DO LIVE PERFORMANCES, I AM CHRONICALLY FATIGUED.” With much scheduled rest time and Gatorade, I made it through the season! And stumbled giddily into my next project: this podcast.

just-a-spoonful-headerJust A Spoonful is a fortnightly conversation between me (ME/CFS sufferer, professional goofball) and a guest – another young person who is living with chronic illness and/or disability. (It was going to be weekly but I am too bloody tired for that.) We talk about our day-to-day lives – how we live, what we live for. I don’t know any spoonies (good term, I recommend Christine Miserandino’s post on The Spoon Theory) who don’t do anything. For me, having a fraction of the energy a healthy person would have means that I am much more precious with it. I try to work on things I really love. This podcast is an excuse for me to find interesting people who are somehow coping with permanent challenges and chat to them about their lives and their interests and giggle into their awesome faces.

Much thank-you to the amazing Erin Michelle for illustrating the podcast artwork. She is a super talented artist and does commissioned artworks so you should check out her Etsy right now. (I particularly like her ‘Selfie While Crying In Public’. I was like, here is a person who knows how to be productive with life challenges.)

I am thrilled to have music by Anna O (‘Sleepless’) and Marksman Lloyd (‘Silver Magic Ships’) featured on each podcast episode. Their respective EPs are two of my fave EPs to come out this year and it’s ridiculous that they both said yes to me using their tracks. They’re both from Perth, too, coincidentally (my hometown makes great music).

Episode 1 of Just A Spoonful is online and ready for listens! I’m still working out the whole iTunes thing but you can listen to the SoundCloud file via the Just A Spoonful site: justaspoonfulpodcast.tumblr.com

My guest for the first episode is filmmaker, TV producer and general sasspot Steph Dower. Steph is an intern at The Edge (State Library of Queensland), producer of Her Untold Story on 31 Digital, and works as a film editor. She lives with a permanent disability, and does not think Mark Wahlberg is funny. We talk movies, Michael Bay, and ‘living’ on the Disability Support Pension.

Here’s a photo of Steph at work (centre):

Borrowed from the Her Untold Story Facebook page: fb.com/heruntoldstory31

Her Untold Story: fb.com/heruntoldstory31

I’m pretty excited about this new project! I hope it will bring some entertainment to everyone, plus comfort to those living with chronic medical conditions and feeling like they’re “missing out” on youth. Take heart. We are young and fully sick.

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Dawn of the patriarchy of the apes

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Yesterday I watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes and presumed prequel to Day of the Dawn of the Consolidation of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I have some thoughts. If you are avoiding spoilers, please look away now.

Here be spoilers.

OK. So. HOW AWESOME WAS THAT?? Caesar totally rode a horse. He rode a horse and he totally told the humans off. He and the other apes built their own society. They taught each other sign language and spoken language and written language! Most humans don’t bother with all three. I loved the graphics (aside from one awkward establishing shot in a final battle scene where the apes look embarrassingly CGI, and my disbelief was entirely un-suspended). I particularly loved Caesar. What a babe. Hunkiest ape this side of the rise of the planet. And Caesar has a team of pretty cool, complex ape characters with which to interact. Overall, an impressive film.

I just, I have a little note. A small thing, really. You’ll probably laugh. But WHERE THE HELL were all the female characters? Female apes, female humans – missing! In the ape colony, we only meet one female ape – Caesar’s wife – who, I found out from the credits, was named Cornelia, although we are never given her name during the movie. In her brief on-screen time, Cornelia fulfills the female-movie-character trifecta of giving birth, providing motive for her man, and looking pretty while dying. Apparently she was played by Judy Greer. You wouldn’t know, since she doesn’t have any spoken lines and she mainly lays there looking ill. A waste of the vocal talent that brings us the unforgettable Cheryl Tunt on Archer. And yet I have read entertainment blogs actually heralding Greer as a “leading lady” in this film. Really? Silent, absent, and mostly uninvolved in the plot? But then, I guess this is what leading roles often look like for women.

There is one other female character in Dawn of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Dark of the Moon. She is a human woman, who – you guessed it – is the wife of the other leading man. The man who isn’t an ape. Good, so we’ve got one woman on each side of the human-ape war, and they each exist to show that the lead male has ‘something to fight for’. The human female (played by the way-underused Keri Russell – here you can see this leading lady describe her role in the film as “miniscule”) is named Ellie, and is listed on Wikipedia as a “former nurse” even though I had the impression she was a doctor, and she definitely performs surgery during the movie. During some staid exposition at the beginning of the film, we are casually informed that, before society crumbled, she worked at the Center for Disease Control. Sounds like Dr Disease-Expert Ellie would be pretty essential to establishing a new society in a post-Simian-Flu world. But instead we only see her administering hugs to Malcolm – the true leader – and asking him for permission to do things. (He denies her permission, by the way, because “I need you here” to care for his son from a previous marriage.) Why is Malcolm the preferential authority in the struggle to save humanity? Well, he’s an architect. And … tall? Have you heard how deep his voice is?

“Get behind me, Doctor, I have a degree in architecture.”

Yes, the gender imbalance in this movie greatly annoyed me. It is part of a larger problem with this film, where the human characters are not satisfactorily fleshed out (thus Malcolm’s role as leader of the humans is never adequately explained, while Caesar’s leadership status is easily established by his superior intellect, wisdom and physical strength). It annoyed me beyond all reason that the female apes were all wearing pretty, spangly, beaded headdresses that practically blinded them. I know this was probably intended as an aesthetic link to the 2001 reboot Planet of the Apes, but in that movie the male apes wore adornments as well. Giving only the female apes impractical jewelry just seemed to reinforce their status as decoration.

I don’t even know where the human females were. Apparently the human population had been thinned to near-extinction by the Simian Flu, while survivors of that were killed in post-apocalyptic wars. Surely, if we assume that men are usually responsible for wars and for fighting them (given all we know about history), there would be more women left than men. Even now, women represent a slight majority in the population. I’ve never understood why dystopian films have so much trouble imagining a landscape with women in it. Or why, with civilisation apparently dismantled and society being rebuilt, patriarchal structures have survived with ease. In the recent past, global wars have accidentally resulted in liberation for women, because with the dominant male class off killing each other, women have had to step into new roles. This is the kind of stuff that I find interesting about stories set in post-conflict societies: how new interpersonal dynamics emerge under unfamiliar circumstances.

We don’t get any such insights into the human world of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but the ape society has evolved beyond recognition. They have chopped down trees, built a permanent home, even set up literacy classes. However, they haven’t socially gone any further than “Get all the females and young to safety”. OK, in a battle situation, I could understand “Get all the mothers and their young to safety”. But all the females? I mean, the apes were off to fight humans, right? And as a human, I find female chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans pants-wettingly terrifying. Any one of them could rip my arm out of my socket – I know it, they know it. Why weren’t there female apes in the battle? You could tell me that, in real-life chimp society, it is the males who fight the wars. You could tell me that ape society appears to follow a patriarchal hierarchy. This is all true. But this is a science-fiction film in which chimps are living alongside gorillas and orangutans, have domesticated the horse, and can talk. Even though chimps do not have a vocal tract. They also fire assault rifles. You telling me we can’t stretch the imagination to a female second-in-command for Caesar?

You could ask me why any of this matters, if it’s just a work of fiction. I’m tired of fielding that question. It matters. I’m over watching films where there are hardly any people who look like me, and all they do is hug the men and tell them they’re brave. There’s more to my life than that, and I’d like to see women in movies have more to their lives than that, too. Even the ape ones.

The kind of girl I want to be

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So, last night I watched Gangster Squad. It was alright. My housemate and I had grabbed the DVD from the shops and headed home with some burgers. It was a pretty sweet plan – we were both in the mood for action, and I loved the line-up of actors. Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling? Sean Penn being insane? Nice.

But by the second half of the film, I was wriggling around in my seat, grunting to myself. I sat forward, threw my hands up. Yelled some half-sentences at the screen. “But what is she–” … “But why doesn’t he–?” … “BUT YOUR WIFE IS–!!”

Something was really bugging me, and it wasn’t just the awkward direction or the under-developed characters. (All of those A-grade actors were working so hard to make something out of that script, but man, they didn’t have much to work with.)

I was getting seriously bugged by the female characters in the film. Emma Stone’s character – what are her motivations? Why does she hang off the arm of that psycho gangster? The only explanation we get – “I came to this town to be a star”. Come on. “I came here to be a star, but that didn’t work out, so now I’m dating the bloodthirstiest mob boss on the west coast”? What? It was hard to see such a paper-thin role inhabited by the gifted comedic actor of Easy A. I mean, she brought the world this:

The only other named female character in Gangster Squad was the sergeant’s pregnant wife. She was clever and tough as nails, but she still spends most of the film being abandoned by her husband.

The thing I was having trouble articulating to my housemate, a dude of the dudest order, is that movies like these make me feel a bit left-out. I don’t see myself in these movies. I love action, I love thriller, but the only people who look like me in them are not the heroes. I’ve never seen myself in the role of dependent girlfriend or long-suffering wife. Growing up, I didn’t dream of waiting at home to find out what was going on. These weren’t the character types that spoke to me.

I wanted to be Ryan Gosling, smooth-talking with a heart of gold. I wanted to be the straight-shooter, pinging tin cans out of the sky with a knowing wink. I wanted to be that “one man” (in movie voice) who saves the world. I wanted to be Will Smith punching aliens; Keanu Reeves stopping bullets; Tobey Maguire discovering he could climb walls with his fingertips. I wanted to be MOTHER-FLIPPING WOLVERINE.

But I’m a lady.

You might be excused for thinking I’m gender-confused, wishing I was Hugh Jackman or something, but that ain’t it. It’s not me who’s confused about my gender – it’s Hollywood. Women are categorically more interesting, varied, and powerful than is represented in cinema. No wonder that, when I’m watching the latest blockbuster, I find myself relating more to the male characters for their appealing array of courageous and tenacious heroes.

There have been flares of cinematic womanhood that have dazzled my weary eyes, such as Hermione punching Malfoy, or Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, or Pocahontas diving off a cliff with zero fear. And, I know I bring it up a lot, but The Hunger Games. These characters are self-possessed, capable, at home in their surroundings. They have that thing inside them, a special power. That’s what so many female characters in cinema lack: an internal power. Their power is more often derived from external sources (usually whomever they’re letting lie on top of them at night).

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read past here if you haven’t seen Season 2 of Game of Thrones yet and you still want to be surprised.

Daenerys Targaryen, "Game of Thrones".

Daenerys Targaryen, “Game of Thrones”.

I think that’s why Daenerys Targaryen of Game of Thrones has gathered such an intense following among fans: She is the Khaleesi. She started off a meek, oppressed, pretty little thing who did what the men around her said. Then, she walked into a fucking bonfire with some dragon eggs and everyone was like HOLY SHIT. No one told her to do that; she felt it intuitively. It came from inside her, a special power that she possessed. I love that. She isn’t a perfect feminist icon, but as Caitlin Moran recently tweeted (in response to the overthrow of Prime Minister Julia Gillard): “[F]eminist role models don’t need to be perfect. Currently, they just need to exist”.

They exist in real life (see: Wendy Davis). I’m damn sure they could comfortably exist in our imaginary lives, as well.

US Senator Wendy Davis. (Dragon probably photoshopped.)

http://www.timeforafilm.com/2012/12/04/movie-review-pitch-perfect-2012/

Movies That Are Good For Girls

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As longtime readers may know, I used to work with teenagers of the female variety, and I noticed that the only movies they would watch were awful Hollywood rom-coms. In other words, they were living on a steady diet of stupid.

myboyfriendthinksimfatI wrote a post a while back, shaming a few “bad movies for girls” – but now I’m stepping it up. I’m not just bringing problems, here; I bring solutions. So, what movies would be good for these teenage girls (and anyone else) to watch? What movies are out there that offer solid alternatives to the ol’ “I need a boyfriend, wah!” formula? I’ve made a list of movies that I wish those teenage girls would watch instead of No Strings Attached. If they ever felt like watching some light entertainment that didn’t end with Matthew McConaughey laughingly mocking a woman and then planting his face on hers*, I would like them to have some options.

* Notable examples of this trope include: “You throw like a girl” (Sahara, 2005); and “Bullshit!” (How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, 2003), to which he romantically adds, “You heard me. Bullshit”.

I ran all the movies I could think of through the Bechdel Test before selection. If you’re not familiar with Bechdel, passing the test requires that the film includes:

  • at least two (named) female characters
  • who talk to each other
  • about something other than men.

The movies listed below pass that test with flying colours. (It’s harder than you’d think! Apparently only half the movies in cinemas at the moment pass it.) I also chose these movies on the basis that I just like them. They’re entertaining. They suggest that maybe – maybe – it would be feasible to make more films about diverse female experiences. I know my life consists of somewhat more than just “wah, boyfriend” (although that’s in there, too), so it would be nice to see the movie options out there reflect that.

So here are five movies that I think are pretty good for girls:

1. Stick It (2006)

Angry girl is angry! For reasons that have nothing to do with boys! Also, she is a kick-ass gymnast. She and her teammates learn to put personal ambition aside and work together to shake up Big Gymnastics. It’s a gorgeous example of overcoming petty competition in favour of communal thinking. And, thank the heavens, they weren’t competing over men. To top things off, this movie’s got some rad athletic scenes, set to a cool soundtrack. I’d much rather hear girls quote this movie than the Bring It On franchise, as this one gives the mean/angry girls a bit of depth, compassion, and even redemption.

2. Pitch Perfect (2012)

Similar set-up to Stick It: angry girl is angry, joins in a team competition with much eye-rolling, and eventually leads her new friends to victory. But this take on a familiar trope is just so. Much. Fun. With a capella singing groups battling each other on campus, heaps of screwball characters, and Rebel Wilson declaring herself the “best break-dancer in Tasmania” … I mean, I’m in. There is a half-baked romance in the wings for the protagonist (Anna Kendrick), but it’s pure exposition for her character. The real triumph is her relationships with the other girls.

3. Brave (2012)

Made for a younger market than the other films on this list, but such a beautiful story from Disney-Pixar that I had to include it. This Disney princess resists being socialised to accept her fate as someone’s wife, and takes matters into her own hands. The central dynamic is a mother-daughter relationship – rare for Disney films – and it is handled beautifully. I cry every time. Every damn time.

4. The Hunger Games (2012)

Katniss is a bad-ass archetypal Artemis figure who shoots straight, takes no shit, and will do anything to protect her sister. At first I wasn’t sure if this one would pass the Bechdel Test because Katniss spends most of the movie interacting with Gale, Peeta or Haymitch (two of whom fancy her) … But then my housemate (a man) reminded me about the beautiful scenes between Katniss and Rue, the young victor from District 11, in which they teach each other to survive.

In fact, the narrative plays with the romance genre by introducing a “meta-romantic subplot” – Peeta and Katniss must act as star-crossed lovers in order to survive the Games. Is the love real? other characters ask. Or is it just what the audience in the Capitol expects? I think somewhere in there are the traces of an interesting commentary on how our culture consumes romance.

5. Mean Girls (2004)

Did someone say “YOU GO GLEN COCO”?? After reading Queen Bees and Wannabes in the early 2000s, Tina Fey bought the film rights to the book and BOY DID SHE USE THEM. I am using so many capitals because I LOVE THIS FILM. This came out just after I finished high school, and ten years later I still hear teenagers quoting it. Fey certainly hit a nerve with this story of a high school newcomer who learns manipulation at the hands of girl cliques. It explicitly addresses problems with the way girls behave towards each other, and does so in a hilarious and highly-quotable manner.

To the guy who told me he would never watch Mean Girls because “What, it’s a chick movie”, I say GO EAT A HAT. Iron Man; Yes Man; Cinderella Man; Spider-man; Bicentennial Man; Lord of War; Iron Man 2; The Dark Knight; The Last King of Scotland; I Love You, Man; Spider-man 2; Children of Men; The Men Who Stare At Goats; X-Men; Men In Black; Man On The Moon; and Spider-man 3 – I’ve watched ’em all, and ENJOYED them (even Spider-man 3, no matter what people say), and I still have all my lady parts in tact. Oh, you know what, just read this.

"She doesn't even go here!"

“She doesn’t even go here!”

But, Bridesmaids ..? Some may remark upon the absence of Bridesmaids (2011) from this list … But I felt that it only barely passed the Bechdel Test. Yes, there are many female characters, but they do mainly get together to talk about men. And when we get a blockbuster Hollywood comedy written by women with a leading cast of women, it’s still centered around a wedding. I think this movie is hilarious, but I’m not sure it offers a great alternative to traditional patriarchal narratives. That said, I nearly cracked a rib laughing at the ‘airplane scene’.

Just a quick point: I recognise that my list of movies representing “diverse female experiences” is doing a great job of privileging young, white, hetero, first-world girls’ experiences. I get that. I would love to watch more diverse female characters on screen, and I welcome suggestions of movies to watch that can help me outside this bubble.

My overall hope is that we’ll see more movies being made that represent the rich diversity of human experiences, especially in the comedy/romance genres. There are so many more types of people out there! Let’s get their stories into teenage DVD collections, too. C’mon now.

Five movies that are bad for girls

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For most of last year, I worked at a private boarding house for girls. I was a “housey”.

My boarders were very bright, active, educated young women who could keep any housey on her toes. When lining up for dinner, they were fierce analytical negotiators. At bedtime they were tireless prosecutors. (“But miss, you let the Year 8s stay up for Glee!”) They navigated the politics of teenage girldom with strength and canniness and a freakish understanding of their complex social web.

But when it came to Movie Night, they only wanted one thing. Stupidity. Frequent, continuous stupidity. Preferably delivered to them in a cute dress.

They wanted the stupid, vapid, often offensive films grouped under the umbrella of “rom-com”. They wanted them without exception, and they would accept no other genre.

I despaired of the boarding house’s DVD library, which contained almost exclusively films about romance (with the exception of Milo & Otis … which is really more of a bromance). In school, these girls were privy to the best academic education our state had to offer. But their education in love and relationships was informed by How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days.

So, for months, I had to watch Amanda Bynes finish every story arc with “See! It’s OK that I’m a strong woman, because look, boyfriend!”, while my brain screamed to itself.

I tried to counteract this pro-stupid bias by delivering mini-seminars at the end of each movie. “Alright girls, who could see what was wrong with that ending? Should she have risked her career so that he wouldn’t feel ’emasculated’?” My lectures were met with replies such as “Shut up” and “Miss, don’t ruin this for us”.

I watched nearly all of those movies with the girls (and quite a few in my spare time). I’m not saying I don’t enjoy watching them. I do. I really, really do. But I also watch other genres of film, and, I might point out, I have enough life experience to realise that Matthew McConaughey is not going to sweep me away on his motorcycle. Those rom-com stories are all about exceptions to the norm: weird – and therefore funny – situations. But the girls watch them uncritically, accepting them as their ideal romance. When they collectively cooed in awe as Edward decided he did, after all, want to be with Bella, after breaking her heart and abandoning her without explanation, I wanted to bash my own head in.

So, rather than bash myself (because then the rom-coms win!), I choose to word-bash these films in this blog. I choose to NAME and SHAME.

I wanted to title this list “Top Five Movies That Young Girls Shouldn’t Watch Without An Accompanying Lecture And Discussion Workshop Analysing The Oppressive Discourses At Work On Them”. But it wasn’t snappy enough. Here, instead, is my list of Five Movies That Are Bad For Girls.

5. Friends With Benefits / No Strings Attached / any film in which casual sex leads to the guy falling deeply in love with the girl

These movies are just setting girls up for a fall … and possibly herpes.

4. Pretty Woman

Prostitution leads to the guy falling deeply in love with the girl … See above.

3. 10 Things I Hate About You

Yeah, I know, BUT HEATH LEDGER! I agree. He is dreamy. And while I adore this film, the ending makes me go “But whaaaaat?” Let’s remember that Heath spends most of the film conspiring with a motley group of teenage boys to trick Julia Stiles into dating him so the other guys can swarm on her sister. Somewhere along the line, Heath actually begins to notice that Julia’s a rockin’ babe. However, he continues to accept bribes to date her, and lies to her about things like quitting smoking. Julia finds out and, hurt by his betrayal, gets mad. Really mad. (Not surprisingly.) Still the bravest person in the film, she expresses her bewilderment in a poem that rhymes really badly. Heath listens with a pained expression. With so much trust lost between them, and such a betrayal on Heath’s part, you’d think it would take something huge to– oh wait, he bought her a guitar. He bought her a guitar! Rather than do something trite and mediocre like APOLOGISE, he bought her a guitar. And when she expresses her need to rebuild trust with him, he stifles her by forcing his face onto hers. All is better! Cue grunge music!

2. The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Pointing out chauvinism in the Twilight series is like shooting fish in a barrel, so I’ll keep this brief. Bella loves Edward! Edward loves Bella! But wait, Bella’s blood makes Edward’s family want to kill her. Bella wants to work through this problem, because their relationship is important to her, but Edward knows what is good for Bella BETTER THAN SHE DOES. He dumps her, without explanation. Bella is sad! Bella sits on a sofa without moving for several months! Then she jumps off a cliff! Only solution when your boyfriend leaves you! Wait, Edward needs her! Then, ignoring safety for herself, Bella needs to help him! Edward’s back, yay! He’s chastising her for not understanding that he did it for her own good, but he’s back! All better!

1. How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days

This blog post begins and ends with Kate Hudson. I’ve probably seen this movie upwards of a dozen times. It’s like a bag of stale popcorn: if it’s in front of me, I’ll probably finish it. Yet, the ending never fails to make me mad. The set-up of this film is that Kate Hudson is bored with her job writing fluff pieces for a women’s magazine. She wants to write about politics, world events, substance! Matthew McConaughey is a jock with an overwrought torso who boasts that he could make “any woman” fall in love with him within 10 days. (What a catch!) Something something they fall in love something then they find out they’re both being played and things fall apart. Clearly, their relationship (which only began less than two weeks ago, I’ll point out) was built on shaky foundations. There is a lot of trust lost. Out of this fiasco, Kate finds the strength to quit her boring column, and leaves New York pursue her dream job. Yay Kate Hudson! But wait, who’s this driving his motorcycle recklessly through peak hour traffic? It’s your dream guy! The one who sees women as interchangeable and dated you on a bet with his boss! He’s telling you not to leave him, because he JUST REALISED he loves you, and he thinks it’s stupid for you to move to Washington for your job, because HE is in New York! “You can write anywhere!” Duh, Kate Hudson! Now he’s ordering your cab driver around and singlehandedly deciding that you’re not moving, after all. Aren’t you lucky that you have such a handsome, strangely-tanned man to make decisions for you? BLERGH.