The time for summer movies is upon us, and Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott of The New York Times has decided to send a memo to Hollywood telling them how to improve the films that come out during the season most dedicated to mindless entertainment. While reading the article, I tried to tally the big summer movies I’ve seen in theaters in the past few years, going back to 2006, and I came up with precisely two: Superman Returns and Sex and the City, both of which I was dragged to by my little sister. I resisted the lure of Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, and didn’t even see Iron Man when everyone else was raving about it. It’s just not my cup of
Now, I am not completely averse to mindless entertainment — after all, I own all six Star Wars films. And I am planning to see one of the big summer films, namely Angels & Demons (it has Ewan McGregor, and I’m only human). But by and large, summer movie season is arguably the worst time of year to see movies with strong representations of women, not that the films distributed throughout rest of the year are always doing such a bang-up job. I have to agree with most of the Times article’s recommendations, particularly as they deal with women and LGBT issues. Oh, and then there’s the one recommendation at the end that really pissed me off. Such is the frustration of reading The New York Times.
The first one is directed at Pixar’s John Lasseter, from Manohla Dargis (M.D.):
I’m psyched that you and the guys at Pixar Animation Studios are finally making a movie with a girl as the lead character and with a woman as director, no less — another first for you! Congrats! Of course we have to wait until 2011 to see “The Bear and the Bow,” but on behalf of 51 percent of the population, I salute you.
A girl as lead! They should have figured that out ages ago. After all, the real heart in Finding Nemo was Ellen DeGeneres’ character Dory. It is frustrating to see Pixar animated movies always trotting out male pixelated characters like in Cars, Toy Story, Ratatouille, even WALL-E. The Incredibles at least had an entire family, but what about a movie with a female protagonist in a starring role? What’s even more annoying about this is that Pixar’s characters are often not human, so there is not the tendency that the Disney movies of the ’80s and ’90s had to dress the heroines in seashell bras or harem pants and give them perfectly flat stomachs. If Finding Nemo had been about a female clownfish, Pixar probably would have resisted the temptation to put lipstick on her, and that would have been damn refreshing.
To: Screenwriters, From: M.D.
Enough with the dead moms: I appreciate that the Bambi Principle is one of the tenets of mainstream narrative cinema and a surefire way to make us feel something for your characters. Yet in the past few years, the dead mothers club has grown awfully crowded what with the additions of “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Uninvited,” “Nim’s Island,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Sunshine Cleaning,” “Knowing,” “Then She Found Me,” “Shoot ’Em Up,” “The Kite Runner,” “Grace Is Gone,” “Smart People,” “Eastern Promises,” “Dan in Real Life,” “No Reservations,” “Hannah Montana,” “Mister Foe” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.” I’m sure it’s nothing personal about women (right?) and that you love your mothers (not that it’s any of my business), but some more time on the couch might be in order. (P.S. Does John Cusack not like being fictionally married? He played a widower in “The Contract,” “Martian Child” and “Grace Is Gone.” Just asking.)
While I’m not quite sure I’d include Eastern Promises in that list (it wasn’t done for decorative purposes and, unfortunately, there would have been zero mystery if the young mother had not died in childbirth), I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. When I watched Disney movies growing up, all I could wonder was, “why are all the moms missing?” This wasn’t some grand statement on the awesomeness of single-parent households, but a nice way to dispose of a woman. And it’s really tired, unnecessary, and a cheap tug at the heartstrings. Nothing gets people crying into their popcorn like dead women!
To: Straight filmmakers, From: M.D.
Enough with the gay slurs, the gay baiting, imitating, limp-wristing, so-not-funny lisping — in other words, enough with the hating. Yeah, some gay men are hilarious (Oscar Wilde). But people are funny, their identities are not. Try this simple test: Every time you feel the need to mock or denigrate gay men or lesbians, replace that joke with an equally vicious dig about African-Americans or Jews. Doesn’t sound so funny anymore, does it?
I would add Ian McKellen and the late Graham Chapman to the list of gay men who are hilarious. And Dargis is right: this shit is tired. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is sort of the epitome of how summer movies deal with gayness: they mock marriage equality and milk it for cheap laughs and an opportunity for Jessica Biel to take off her bra. Oh, and while I Love You Man may not have come out during the summer, it’s bromance theme provided ample opportunity to pigeonhole gays as sluts or effeminates. Enough. There’s that old saying, “Will it play in Peoria?” which was used to determine whether an idea was mainstream enough to be marketed to mass audiences. Well, gay marriage is currently playing in Iowa. Get with the times already.
To: Lionsgate, Cc: Extreme horror filmmakers and fanatics, From: M.D.
Yuck! Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s only a movie. But if films don’t have any wider meaning in the culture, don’t have real impact on minds and bodies, why do so many of us dedicate our lives to obsessing over them?
And stop with the posters of a woman bound up and terrified, sometimes with a single tear rolling down her cheek. Mass-marketing fantasies about attacking women are not something I ever want to see plastered on the side of a bus.
To: Anyone who can make this happen, From: Dargis.
More Rachel McAdams, please. Also, James Franco.
I’m kind of meh on McAdams, but YES PLEASE to the second half of her request.
You may notice, by the way, that I have only featured Dargis’ memos. Now I will include one of Scott’s, but only because the way the request is framed makes clench my fists in rage.
To: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Cc: Every actress in Hollywood, From: A.O.S.
Calories: please consume more of them.
Oh, you’re so clever to trot out the old “eat a sandwich!” line! I’m sure they’ve never heard that before. Also, when was the last time either of the Olsens was in a blockbuster film? And Mary-Kate Olsen had to be treated for an eating disorder, so that’s really the wrong fucking tack to take. If you want to make a point about the dangerously thin body types in Hollywood, maybe you should start by slamming the actual industry that perpetuates extreme skinniness as the norm — and then still airbrushes the women on movie posters. Believe me, I get pissed off when all I ever see are rail-thin women running around onscreen, but telling the actresses to eat more is not really going to cut it. Maybe try actually working on the cultural factors that pressure the women to believe this is the only way to be beautiful, and how Hollywood generally will have no use for you unless you’re a size 00. Mr. Scott, you have the right sentiment, but you’re choosing wrong way to go about trying to change things.