AWFJ Women On Film – The Week in Woman, March 20, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Women with guns? Sex-eee! Women with babies? Surprisingly enough, sometimes they’re sexy too.

NATASHA RICHARDSON, RIP. Broadway lights were dimmed last night for one minute in honor of film and stage star Natasha Richardson, who died Wednesday after a fall on a Montreal ski slope. Richardson, wife of actor Liam Neeson and star of stage and screen — she won a Tony award for her performance in the 1998 Broadway revival of Caberet, and her final movie, Wild Child, was released in the U.K. last summer and is already available in DVD in Region 2 — was 45 years old.

I’m surprised at how much I was shocked and remain stunned by this terrible news: I wasn’t an especial fan of Richardson’s, though I’ve enjoyed her work, and I’ve never been someone who makes extensive emotional investments in celebrities. But the unlikely circumstances of Richardson’s death — the result of a minor fall that apparently resulted in no injury at all — combined with her youth and vitality (she was only a few years older than me) are such a potent reminder of how fragile our lives are and how no amount of talent, success, or happiness can protect us from tragedy that it’s almost impossible not to be haunted by her.

Richard Corliss in Time summed this strange feeling perfectly:

One function of celebrity is to alert the rest of us to hard truths, to teach us the lessons of love and grief.

Alas that this is one of those hard truths.

GUNS AND GALS: An ad for the movie Wanted has been condemned by the British Advertising Standards Authority, which insisted that because the ad shows star Angelina Jolie firing weapons, it could be construed as glamorizing gun violence. In its story on the ruling, the Associated Press notes that the “advertising authority has no power to enforce its writ, but it can refer advertisers to Britain’s Office of Fair Trading for legal action.”

Universal Pictures, which released the film, noted some sexism in the ruling (according to the IMDB’s Studio Briefing):

In response, Universal Pictures observed that similar ads featuring male actors have passed muster with the ASA in the past and accused the ad group of coming down on the Jolie flick because “some people did not like to see a woman in a strong lead role.”

What’s truly sexist about the whole thing, of course, is that women with guns are often seen as sexy — that’s why Hollywood makes movies like Wanted in the first place — but that men with guns are not, even though, in the eyes of many female viewers, they may well be seen that way. The point in this instance isn’t whether the Hollywood depiction of violence “glamorizes” violence or whether it merely renders violence into a fantasy that only those mature enough to appreciate as fantasy should be enjoying.

The question is: How do we get past the hetero-male perspective that so characterizes the corporations that make movies and the organizations that decry them that they don’t even notice it? If the ASA is being sexist, it’s not in not wanting to see strong women on lead roles, it’s in not even being able to acknowledge that half the population is probably drooling over James Bond in a tux brandishing a gun.

SPEAKING OF SEXIST SEXINESS… An MSN.co.uk poll of dubious intent and value has determined that British Netizens think Angelina Jolie is the No. 1 “yummy mummy.”

The poll was prompted by the fact that this Sunday, March 22, is Mother’s Day in the U.K. What better way to honor Mom than to suggest that it’s somehow surprising that mothers can be sexy?

I look forward to MSN.co.uk’s upcoming Father’s Day poll to determine who the No. 1 “delicious dad” is. Oh, wait: Everyone knows guys are sexy regardless of their parental status.

OPENING THIS WEEK: Julia Roberts stars (with Clive Owen) in Duplicity, a smart, sexy caper that harkens back to the grownup screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s in how it pairs up its bantering lovers on the basis of their brains and their personalities. It’s not quite the diametrical opposite of I Love You, Man, which posits that men and women can’t be friends and the only real man is an overgrown frat boy, but almost.

Expanding this week (though still in limited releases): Last Chance Harvey stars Emma Thompson in a tale of unexpected romance that gets the details of a woman’s heart — and a woman’s heartbreak — exactly right. And Sunshine Cleaning stars Amy Adams as a woman finally figuring out that making your own way in the world sometimes requires leaning on the right people.

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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).