Women On Film – The Week In Women, February 27, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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How to garner Hollywood’s approval: Bake cookies, be gorgeous–or ugly!–and, whatever else you do, don’t be your own person. It’s so easy!

HOW HOLLYWOOD DEFINES WOMANLY: It’s only natural that director Mike Leigh, nominated for this year’s Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Happy-Go-Lucky is a bit biased (and forgivably so) when it comes to Sally Hawkins’ performance in his film. In Hollywood for the awards ceremonies, he stands up for the not-nominated Sally in his Oscars Diary, published in The Guardian:

No disrespect to Kate and the other girls, I desperately miss Sally. I genuinely can’t see how any of their performances are as original, creative, profound, witty or versatile as hers. But there you go.

Yes, there you go, Mike, and here’s the problem: Sally’s Poppy is neither a walking human disaster area nor someone who’s dedicated her entire life to taking care of other people at the expense of her own personhood. And, with no intended diss to the women who nominated for Oscars this year, let’s give a nod to the undeniable fact that the “acceptable” roles for women in Hollywood typically fall into that pretty narrow range of virgin, whore, mother or nutter. All of the Oscar-nominated roles–in both Lead and Supporting Actress categories–fit into those definitions. But, Poppy? Well, she‘s none of those. Quite the contrary: Poppy is a great example of how a woman can be a complicated and interesting person even when she’s neither totally devoted to her children nor completely wrapped up in herself. Hollywood barely recognizes that as female, never mind as the sort of female experience worth celebrating. So, how could Hawkins possibly be nominated? But, Mike, please continue to stand by her, and please write more like her. We love Poppy!

WELL, SHE DOES HAVE A MANLY NAME: Female journalist Decca Aitkenhead‘s recent interview with Glenn Close in The Guardian presents an astonishing (if unwittingly so) revelation of the schizophrenic way in which Western culture interprets modern womanhood. The interview starts off promisingly, with a Close quote explaining the appeal of her character in Damages (the series which is returning to British TV):

I think for a woman it’s always a very, very tricky position to know how to maintain your power, in a world that’s mostly dominated by men.

But Aitkenhead doesn’t seem able to avoid dealing with Close in remarkably typical ways, approving of her appearance:

She is quite extraordinarily beautiful. At 61 her appearance retains the same ageless quality that made it hard to say if she was in her 20s, 30s or 40s when she starred at 39 in Fatal Attraction. Sheathed in a black dress, with one elegant ankle curled behind the other, she settles on to the sofa looking almost regal, like Princess Michael of Kent.

So, in other words, it’s okay for her to be 61, as long as she doesn’t look 61–whatever 61 looks like. And maybe it’s okay for her to be 61–as it would be for a male actor–because, indicates Aitkenhead, Glenn’s pretty male anyway:

She is, nonetheless, in many ways quite like a typical male interviewee. Questions are carefully parsed, and some answered with almost clinical precision. The poise doesn’t lack warmth, but she is not what therapists would call a social rescuer; there is no impulse to fill the air with noise. Only the occasional twisting of a manicured finger, and the slightly watchful expression, suggest anything less than unshakeable self-possession.

Stating that “Close has always been reluctant to describe herself as a feminist,” Aitkenhead then quotes Close who, disappointingly, parrots outmoded stereotypes about what modern womanhood is:

I’ve certainly never been the kind of person who wants to stand up on a soapbox and start shouting…

Because, you see, that’s is all that feminism is: standing on a soapbox and shouting.

SEE, THIS IS WHAT A PROPER WOMAN DOES: Katie Holmes brought cookies to the crew on her latest film. And we know what that means:

The former Dawson’s Creek star is currently shooting The Extra Man in New York – and the 30-year-old decided to splash out on the sweet treats for everyone on set on Tuesday.

A source tells America’s Ok! magazine, “It was only the second day of filming and Katie brought our entire crew chocolate chip cookies. What an utter sweetheart.

“She said, ‘I know you guys work hard.’ It’s such a small gesture but it really goes a long way. She’s cordial, she’s friendly and everyone already loves her.”

That’s it, girls, ff you wanna be loved, bake cookies.

ONLY UGLY GIRLS DESERVE TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY: And here’s the flip side of Hollywood’s obsession with female physical perfection: women who are attractive aren’t seen as artists. Lisa Marks at the Guardian’s Film blog notes that:

Glamorous pop princess Mariah Carey has cottoned on to the first rule of “serious acting”. Make yourself plain, persecuted or ugly, and the critics will sing your praises from opening scene until end credits.

Just another example of how focusing on appearance is demeaning to everyone, even those who apparently benefit from Hollywood’s approval.

DEATH SENTENCE FOR MADEA?: Tyler Perry is suggesting that he may off his popular character Madea — performed by him in a fat suit and old-lady makeup — because he can’t stand the effort the costume takes:

[She’s] a whole lot of fun to watch. But to do it is a nightmare. It’s all one suit that I’m zipped into, so it’s all heavy. The hips are heavy. And the more I sweat, the heavier it gets. I see why women have back problems who have large breasts. Holding those things upright can be tough.

Good riddance to Madea, who is a terrible stereotype, and a hearty so-there to Perry. Maybe next time he’ll cast a woman in a woman’s role.


Movies Opening Today: A vast wasteland devoid of woman. Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience is all about the boy band who wear purity rings, because–as one of them explained in the Barbara Walters special that aired just before the Oscars on Sunday night–it’s all about respecting women… because, apparently, sex is always disrespectful. And then there’s video game flick Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, which appears to feature no characters of either gender, just pixelated player avatars standing in for the viewer.

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at FlickFilosopher.com, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her AWFJ.org archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).