As I've said before, the hammering that Kathryn
Bigelow has been getting for "Zero Dark Thirty" might have as much to do with male chauvinism as with political correctness.
True, the Academy gave her an Oscar in 2009 for "The Hurt Locker,"
moved no doubt by its gut-wrenching depiction of macho men doing heroic deeds
to save people. What better opportunity to make up for eight decades of zilch
for women directors? But when she follows up with a film about a macho woman, one who perseveres for ten years
despite flak from her know-it-all male superiors and bags the world's number
one terrorist, a woman who doesn't even have a boyfriend, well that's going too far, especially for an organization made
up of 77% percent men, with an average age of 62.
In short, the Bigelow snub showed that Hollywood
had regressed to its sexist business as usual, if not more so.
But maybe this was just an anomaly. Maybe I'm getting a little
too conspiracy minded, listening to the voices again. And didn't the president
just sign the Violence Against Women Act, touted even by the Republicans who
voted against it as a big step to secure women's rights?
So I decided to check some recent Hollywood releases to see if my suspicion
that misogyny has once again become the status quo. If indeed it ever was
Let's start with the rising fortunes of Melissa McCarthy, who
inverted the standard movie caricature of plus-sized woman with her performance in
"Bridesmaids" -- itself a film that I for one thought
might indicate a renaissance in films about women by women that rose above the
reigning stereotypes. And indeed McCarthy was able to get her own starring role
in "Identity Thief," a film that likewise revels in the lechery, gluttony, and malice of an obese,
castrating termagant, but instead of inverting the caricature, confirms it.
Here the epitome of comedy - and horror - is being forced to watch McCarthy's
character get it on with a guy in he rweight class. If anyone's identity is stolen in
the movie, it's McCarthy's.
Next, "Side Effects."
Notable as Steven Soderbergh's self-proclaimed final film (with the technical
exception of his Liberace movie on HBO), it also has also been marketed for having a plot twist that really isn't much of a surprise but which they insist no one
give it away anyway. So the following might include a spoiler.
A shrink, played by Ewan McGregor, in the habit of liberally
prescribing the latest wonder drugs, gives some to a depressed patient played
by Rooney Mara. But then, presumably suffering a side effect of the drug, she
murders her husband. So now you're thinking, the shrink is the bad guy; he is, if I can slip into jargon for a moment, the iconic patriarchal figure, not to mention a shill for
But not so fast. Let's just say the old femme fatale stereotype is at
work and we might be seeing the work of that perennial villain, the homicidal
Then there's another milestone for a top-notch auteur, Korean
director Park Chan-wook's first Hollywood feature, "Stoker." On the one hand,
Park has achieved one of the most visually ambitious and accomplished films of
the year. On the other hand, he seems to have bought into
all the Hollywood stereotypes, in which women
are either psychopaths or dummies -- or they end up in the basement freezer.
Here, Mia Wasikowska plays India, a brooding 17-year-old- who loses her father in an accident just before her birthday. That's when her
creepy, Norman Bates-like Uncle Charlie shows up. India mistrusts the newcomer,
especially when her dim-witted mother, played by Nicole Kidman, takes a shine
to him. But then the bodies start to mount up, and she kind of likes the guy. In the end they both get more than they bargained for.
As does the smitten kid in Robert LaGravanese's
A bookish loner in a small southern town, he has a crush on
Lena, a moody, ostracized newcomer in school who seems to have "Carrie" like
powers - for example when a snooty female classmate badmouths her, she gets a
face full of a shattered window for her troubles. AS it turns out, she's a
"caster," the film's euphemism for "witch."
As in "Stoker," Lena is
celebrating her birthday; she's about to turn 16, an age when not only will she
be able to apply for a driver's license, but she must decide whether to
join the dark side or the light side, and being female, she has a weakness for
the dark side. Also luring her to the dark side is her wicked witch mother, who
has disguised herself as the local bible thumping town scold, and her wicked, slutty
witch sister. The sister is especially wicked because she bewilders men with
her spellbinding sexiness and then they do something dumb like get hit by a
train or betray their best friend.
Luckily she has the protection of her uncle, a powerful magician
and plantation owner, who gives her protection. It's kind of like "Django Unchained,"
with everything backwards and set in the present day.
So, we move from the femme fatale to the witch.
You know, the women who historically were burned the stake
for a few hundred years or so for practicing black arts, shunning me, and putting career before family. As it
turns out, I kind of liked "Oz the Great and Powerful," Sam Raimi's critically
maligned (but commercially gangbusters) prequel to the 1939 original (and 1985's unfairly dismissed "Return to Oz" by Walter Murch). Once you get used to having no
Toto, Tin Man, Scarecrow, or Cowardly Lion, it's a kind of a brilliant
deconstruction and revision of the myth. But don't get me started.
We were speaking of witches, and here we've got three of them,
one bad, one good, and one in the middle, and as in "Beautiful Creatures," it
becomes a matter of whether the woman chooses her own career, her own path of
power and wrath, or chooses to submit herself to a guy, however callow or phony
he might be.
Maybe I'm straining a bit. For more obvious expressions
of not-so-subtle misogyny check out next week's openings "The ABCs of Death,"
which features 26 short films, 25 of them by men,
some of whom apparently find
the idea of women farting more frightening than the grim reaper, or Roman
Coppola's "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III," (with the title
character played by renowned macho shithead Charlie Sheen), a mind containing such
fantasies such as being attacked by "The Secret Society of Ball Busters" or by a war party of
bikini clad bimbos.
So I don't think I'm making this up.