AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, October 16, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Some men get it, some men still don’t, taking back the chick flick and Hollywood hates women

A MAN WHO GETS IT. I really do look for good news about women in enertainment to relate. Honestly, I try. It’s tough to find. But sometimes it just falls into my lap. As when I spoke with Nick Hornby, who adapted Lynn Barber’s memoir into the screenplay for An Education, that rarest of rarities, a coming-of-age story about a teenaged girl. When I noted how rare such tales are, Hornby replied:

It hadn’t occured to be, but they are unusual. I was very attracted to the material and to the strength of the girl and to the tonal mix in the original piece. And it was sort of almost immaterial to me that it was a girl, though of course it’s a story that could only have happened to a girl…

I guess it was one of the reasons that I thought, I want to do this, because it felt fresh to me.

And when he was asked whether there’s a trick to writing about a girl, he responded:

It’s only in the matter of gender that people ask you this question. If I write about a man who is 20 years older than me or a boy who lives in Detroit who is 30 years younger than me, nobody asks me the question, How did you do this? I think we are much closer than people think. There is an industry devoted to telling us that we cannot understand each other, you can buy endless books and endless magazines if you’re going to understand men or you’re going to understand women. You know, I live with a woman. Very rarely does she do anything that I find completely incomprehensible [laughs]. She goes to work, we listen and talk, and and I’m not mystified by her. And yet all the time I’m asked, how do you understand a 17-year-old girl. I grew up with a teenaged girl in my house when I was a kid. You hope that you observe something. It really is what fiction writing is.

I can see that she’s a smart girl, I can see the kind of books that she would read, I can see the kind of relationships she would have with her parents, and you start to piece it together. But I don’t think there’s at which you have to take a great leap into the unknown, which is femininity. It just doesn’t feel like that.

There’s another rarity: A man who understands and is willing to state publicly that men and women aren’t so different after all. If only more men making movies thought this way, we might be seeing a lot more movies about women that are actually worth watching.

HOLLYWOOD HATES WOMEN, ITEM NO. 9,763,129. I’ve learned to love Salon’s Heather Havrilesky for her smart, snarky takes on TV, and this week, she delivers a smackdown to the appalling way women over the age of 25 are being treated by the new fall TV season:

If aliens learned about our culture by watching our newest television shows, they might assume that planet Earth was terrorized by predatory middle-aged women with hairless, bony bodies and the same blank expression on their overly Botoxed faces, a look of creepy awe at the joys of 20-something tenderloin.

“They’re addicted to those botulism injections, which make them jittery and sick,” the aliens might hypothesize after watching shows like “Cougar Town” and “Eastwick” and “Accidentally on Purpose.” “Their lives are so addled by substance abuse that they pace and second-guess themselves with their googly-eyed, like-minded friends, then giggle and high-five like schoolgirls at the sight of some well-defined abdominal muscles, which are apparently a sign of inner purity.”

“Why don’t the other humans just snuff them out?” some young alien would interject, but no one would answer him because in the galaxy of Zoron, young men are seen as hopelessly naive and confused and are generally ignored until they hit 35. Besides, all of the older aliens would already recognize that these “cougars” clearly serve as some sort of cautionary tale for female humans, a moralistic narrative that humans refer to, strangely enough, as a “guilty pleasure” — “guilty” in this case meaning “it makes you want to stick your head in the oven” and “pleasure” referring to the feeling humans get from having their fingernails ripped off one by one.

It gets better. Go read it.

TAKING BACK THE CHICK FLICK. I hate the term “chick flick” for its derogatory connotations — ie, that if a movie is about women or of interest to women, it must be crap, and apparently Uma Thurman and Katherine Dieckmann feel the same way. Thurman stars in writer-director Dieckmann’s upcoming film Motherhood, and they both had something to say recently to me about the label.


I’m gonna take it back. I’m reclaiming it. I’m a woman. I wanna make films for women. And guys who are cool are gonna like them too.


Just because a movie has a woman at the center of it and just because it’s about a mother, I object to the idea that that’s automatically what we call a “chick flick.” No, it’s about human life. Why should that automatically mean that only women would want to see it? It’s so reductive. I wish people could think about this in a slightly more complicated way. When you heard about a movie like The Proposal making such gobs of money and then that doesn’t translate into the idea that a movie with a woman audience is profitable. The logic doesn’t follow, and that’s frustrating.

SPEAKING OF MOVIES WOMEN LIKE… I mentioned last week how I was worried that the standard Hollywood “wisdom” about “women’s movies” — that the box office failure of one, such as Whip It — invariably comes to infect all movies perceived of as “for women” in a way that the failure of a movie perceived of as “for men” does not. So I was struck when I learned, via Box Office Mojo, that the flick Couples Retreat, which opened to unexpectedly huge business last weekend, did so through an audience that was “61 percent… female and 56 percent… 30 years of age and older.”

Any bets on how long before Hollywood starts catering to older women? No takers, eh?

SHE’S NOT A SCIENTIST, SHE’S A HOTTIE. God bless the boy nerds at Sci Fi Wire for demonstrating, once again, the depths of their male-centricism. They’ve newly charted which female scientists in the geek oeuvre are hot, which are plausible, which are both, and which are neither. Because not only can such things be charted, they are, of course, incontrovertible and objective: any woman one boy nerd thinks is hot must, perforce, be perceived as hot by all boy nerds. It’s the law, or something. And, as all boy nerds know, the more beautiful a woman is, the less likely she is to be supersmart:

Ever find yourself watching a movie or TV show featuring a beautiful female scientist character only to think, “She’s no scientist”? Us too! Only once we thought about it further, we realized that some of those scientists were hot and plausible, some were neither, and most fell somewhere in between.

I eagerly await Sci Fi Wire’s chart grading the hotness and plausibility of male scientists.

OPENING THIS WEEK. Wanna get a man really, really angry? Rape and murder his wife and adorable little girl. Gerard Butler is super pissed off after his female property is taken away from him in Law Abiding Citizen, but what else is new?

See the AWFJ’s regular rundown of new releases for more.

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  • Marshall

    I read this column regularly, and I love it because of the different viewpoints and the way it makes me think about things. But this, “Wanna get a man really, really angry? Rape and murder his wife and adorable little girl. Gerard Butler is super pissed off after his female property is taken away from him in Law Abiding Citizen, but what else is new?

    ” kinda upset me. The way this is written though, you make it sound like it’s somehow bad if a guy gets mad if this were to actually happen. Does the character played by Gerard Butler really think of his wife and daughter as property? Any man in his right mind would be extremely upset and angry if something like this happened. Any woman would be to if the rolles were reversed. If anything, this sort of reaction is a human one, not a male or female exlusive feeling.

  • Tyler

    I was going to say the same thing Marshall says. If I had a wife and daughter and someone killed them, I’m pretty sure I’d be angry too. If your point was that it could easily be, say, a wife and a little boy, or a husband and a little boy, then okay, but that’s not how your little blurb reads.

    I also think it’s a shame that Thurman and Dieckmann are making those comments while promoting a movie that looks appallingly bad. It’s the same thing with a movie I reviewed last week called Creating Karma, which noted in the press materials that the two women who wrote and directed it were trying to create roles for funny women, but it was a serious competitor for the worst movie I’ve ever seen.

    It’s also a shame that I can’t feel the same way about An Education. I saw it and thought it was overwhelmingly familiar. It seems like even Mary Ann should agree; how about a story about a young girl who makes smart decisions and does clever, funny things rather than gets swept up in the ritzy glamour of a sophisticated older guy who’s obviously bad for her?

  • MBI

    Not to put words in her mouth, but what I think she was probably objecting to was the idea that the only reason women existed in that movie was to be raped and murdered and cause Gerard Butler’s descent into insanity/badassness. (In comics criticism, this is called Women in Refrigerators Syndrome.) In any case, she could have worded that better certainly.

  • MaryAnn Johanson

    Any woman would be to if the rolles were reversed.

    Except that roles are rarely reversed, at least on film — perhaps never. (I certainly cannot think of a film in which a man is raped and murdered and his wife sets out to extract vengeance.)

    It’s not that it’s not understandable that a man would be angry were the women he loves to become the victims of a violent crime: it’s that this is *such* an easy way to rile up an audience, and one used *so very often* by unthinking cinema — that is, suggesting that violent crimes against women *entitle* men to go vigilante — that makes it worth commenting on. As I said in a comment at, it’s all about:

    the abuse of the trope. If this were the only movie ever to have used such a setup, I doubt we’d be complaining. It’s a cheat on the movie’s part and it insults the audience. It assumes — and perhaps rightly so — that a less emotionally wrought crime would be harder to get an audience riled up about. But that’s the whole point of our criminal justice system: it’s supposed to remove, as much as possible, the emotion and the subjectiveness from the process. A movie like this is so entirely antithetical to a civilized process of justice that it indicts itself… except that most people won’t ever think about it that way, and will only whoop and cheer and call it a good time at the movies.

    If your point was that it could easily be, say, a wife and a little boy, or a husband and a little boy, then okay, but that’s not how your little blurb reads.

    But that is NOT my point. It could NOT be this way and be even remotely like the same movie.

    The difference is between what happens in real life, and what happens in the movies. The two are not always the same.

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