A Female ‘Hangover’? Sorry, boys, it’s all our own.

 Long ago, in the Before Time, there were funny women.  Or rather, women were allowed to be funny.  Their names were Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Jean Arthur, Irene Dunne, Shirley Maclaine, Thelma Todd, Mae West, Lucille Ball … and those are just the ones that I can think of at the moment.  And they played opposite men in comedies and were allowed to be just as funny, sometimes even funnier, than the boys.  They were ‘dizzy dames’ and ‘madcap heiresses’ and ‘newspapermen’.  They were powerhouses of screwball comedy.

Somewhere along the way (I think it really started in the 90s), it became taboo for girls to be funny.  Men were funny.  Men were gross and ridiculous.  Men got to be childish, get drunk, get high, get laid.  The Apatow Factory has produced girls that aren’t allowed to be funny.  They have to calm, sedate, the sober counterparts of those wild and crazy guys, who would put up with the madness and eventually, inevitably, stand by their men.  And, in those moments when the women got their own films, all they really wanted was a man to take care of, lord over even.  They were foils, straightmen, at the most people to be laughed AT, not with.

But there is hope.  Great hope.  With the release of movies like ‘Bridesmaids’ and ‘Bad Teacher’, the girls are getting some of their own back.  Girls get to be funny again.

‘Bridesmaids’ is not, as some have remarked, a female version of ‘The Hangover’.  It’s a whole new thing called ‘Bridesmaids’.  And it’s funnier than hell.  Probably one of the few movies I have seen to accurately represent adult female relationships, in all their weirdnesses.  It’s gross, it’s profane, it uses words that us girls are apparently not supposed to know (unless, of course, we’re sluts).  It’s real.  There are no shopping montages, no hair-pulling, no vicious back-stabbing, no battles over hunky men.  The lives of these women are not fixed by a makeover or a marriage.  And these women do not act like men.  They act like women, real women.  I mean, hell, they act like my friends.

‘Bridesmaids’ doesn’t turn the tables on the guys; it goes off and gets its own table.  Marriage, although it is a central concern of the film (much like ‘The Hangover’, let’s be honest), is not the end game.  Love, friendship, companionship, the trials of being an adult, regardless of sex, are the complications that run through the movie.  There are no easy answers and everything does not get wrapped up in a neat little package.  But the women of the movie — and there are many, of all ages — hold together, fighting, swearing, destroying, rebuilding.  Growing up.  The men are not excluded by a long shot, but it is adult relationships that are celebrated in the most hilarious way possible.  Everyone flounders and everyone, in some measure, perseveres.  ‘Bridesmaids’ gives me hope for the future of comedy, and for the future of gender relations.  The girls get to play as much as the boys, and they do it without being sluts, fashion plates, or that hilarious class of unmarried female who just needs a man to loosen her up and make her life worth living.

Nearing the end of ‘Bad Teacher’ (another recent case of women getting to be profanely hilarious), Jason Segel makes a very *ahem* lewd gesture at Cameron Diaz.  Her reaction is not to get 1) offended or 2) secretly turned on.  She just smiles.  She smiles because she’s found a person, a friend, a man, to be herself with.  A man that won’t save her, or change her, but simply be with her.  A man just as disgusting as she is.  And really, isn’t that all we’re looking for?

In Defense of the Slow and Boring and Fast and Entertaining

Hitchcock explains to Truffaut that he can't remember why he framed a single shot a particular way 40 years ago.

A recent New York Times article, by two critics whom I respect and mostly trust, gave me pause.  The article, entitled In Defense of the Slow and Boring, is a response from A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis to another article in The New York Times Magazine by Dave Kois (available here) that purports to describe certain films (I believe we call them ‘art house’) as slow, boring and, above all, not entertaining.  Scott, Dargis and Kois raise some interesting questions (although I do hope that they realize the questions are not exactly new): are films meant to be entertainment or art? Can they be both? SHOULD they be both? And so forth.  What troubled me about the Dargis/Scott article, however, was not that they asked the questions.  It was rather the way they asked them.

Being a film student and proud cinephile, I am not exactly new to the arena of film snobbery.  Ever sat through Michael Snow’s Wavelength? Ever had, by my count, 12 whole minutes of your life stolen by Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight? Ever stared blankly at Alain Resnais’s Muriel? Ever prayed for death during Diary of a Country Priest? No? Then don’t talk to me about boredom, confusion or general malaise.  Now those are all movies that I find dull.  But I have friends, cinephiles, who enjoy them.  Who find them fascinating, moving, educational.  And that’s just fine.  We can argue about it, debate the merits of Brakhage, of Warhol, of Resnais and Bresson.  We might not ever agree, but we can find some common ground for discussion.

As I’ve said before in this blog, I also like my fast movies, my stupid comedies, my entertainment.  And I baulk when someone accuses me of snobbery simply because I enjoy Resnais and think Michael Bay should not be called a ‘director’.  That’s not snobbery; that’s taste.  And if your taste is for Bay’s massive explosions, more power to you.  Those films will never go away, and really, we shouldn’t want them to.  Because the people those films entertain are not the idiot masses, as some film critics would have you believe.  Thor does not belong in the same class of films as Solaris, but (and here’s a shocker to Scott and Dargis): it’s not supposed to.  It’s a big, dumb action movie and it’s a pretty good big, dumb action movie.  It aspires to be nothing more; it should not aspire to be more.

There is an incipient disrespect for films at the bottom of the Scott/Dargis argument, not to mention a disrespect for audiences.  Modern audiences don’t want to think, apparently.  I think they do, just not every minute of every film.  Compare to the difference between eating a hamburger and a milk shake with eating a filet mignon and red wine.  You’ll always recognize that the filet is, technically speaking, BETTER than the hamburger.  That doesn’t mean you want to eat filet all the time.

The films that I find most pretentious are ones like Inception, the ones that purport to be full of depth and intellect and are actually nothing more than meaningless amalgams of better films blended with pop-psychology and a healthy dose of Sartre for Dummies.  Films like that insult the intelligence of the audience because they masquerade as something better, deeper.  But that’s just my opinion.  At base, movies (like books and theatre and television) have the capacity to provoke, to challenge, to educate, and to entertain.  Lest we forget that Alfred Hitchcock, the darling of the French New Wave and a massive influence on everyone from Truffaut to Tarantino to Scorsese to (I suspect) Malick, was one hell of an entertainer.