AWFJ Women On Film – The Week in Women, April 10, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Date rape, animal porn, and a boost to women’s voices.

IS DATE RAPE FUNNY? That seems to be the big question of the day, because — yup — Seth Rogen’s character date-rapes Anna Faris’s character in Observe and Report, opening today. Faris tells the Onion’s AV Club that she found the scene so shocking that

I just thought, “We’ll shoot it, but it’s not gonna be in the movie. I don’t have to worry about that one.”

But there it is, in the movie, and it’s shocking.

New York magazine’s blog Vulture considers how the film frames the scene:

The movie doesn’t mitigate that sex scene at all. In fact, it makes it even more clear than the trailer does that when Brandi and Ronnie get home from dinner, she’s unbelievably trashed on antidepressants and tequila. Not only does she throw up all over the place, she can barely walk — and she certainly can’t give any kind of informed consent.

I’m not sure that Vulture’s attempt to mitigate the scene works:

But, given all the horrible things Ronnie does later in the movie — out of spite, or stupidity, or flat-out psychosis — this scene winds up seeming a lot less awful as the movie goes on. For one thing, as horribly misdirected as it becomes, his “courtship” of Brandi is the only thing in Ronnie’s life that comes partly from a place of sweetness rather than entirely from a place of darkness. (Sure, plenty of it comes from his sociopath-level desire to wield power over the world, but not all of it.) He may have no idea how to interact properly (or even legally) with a woman, but he’s desperate for connection and helpless before her limited charms.

And he even shows a glimmer of self-awareness — after all, mid-rape, he stops for a moment, worried about whether he’s doing the right thing. Yeah, he’s so deluded and terrified that her drunken reprimand convinces him he is doing the right thing, but at least he thinks about it, which is more than you can say for his behavior in the rest of Observe and Report.

But actually I believe that pertinent question isn’t “Is date rape funny?” — because, of course, it isn’t — but is instead: “Is Observe and Report really a comedy?” The film is being marketed as a comedy, and it does not fully succeed as the the very dark portrait of Ronnie as an reflexively violent, mean-spirited, self-involved ignoramus that it apparantly sets out to be. But I don’t think it gives a stamp of approval to Ronnie’s behavior.

Vulture finds the scene “explosively funny” — I do not — while also being “deeply uncomfortable,” which I think almost anyone would agree with. I think we’re sure to see much debate, even among feminists, about whether there’s anything redeeming in this particular example what appears to be, on the surface — and perhaps below the surface too — Hollywood’s casual misogyny.

MAKING WOMEN SOUND BETTER. Who knew that sexism extended this far into the technological realm? From IMDB’s Studio Briefing:

Traditionally, most microphones employed by broadcasters have been designed to enhance the male voice. But Neumann, one of the largest manufacturers of studio microphones, announced Thursday that it has developed the new KMS 104 Plus that is optimized to improve female voices. The handheld mic, the company said, boosts the bass range in the human voice, making female voices sound fuller and provides “optimal intelligibility of words.”

Just as I learn about something new to be angry about, a reason not to be angry about it comes along as well. Nice.

PORNO FOR A GREEN PLANET. Isabella Rossellini turns sexographer in the sweetest way with Green Porno, her series of Web shorts for the Sundance Channel about the mating habits of all the Earth’s creatures. In the new series, which just began, she highlights the sex lives of marine creatures. These cute, weird little films are creative wonders, and beautiful examples of boundaries that can be pushed when women — or filmmakers of any gender — step outside the system and follow their own voices.

OPENING THIS WEEK. In addition to Observe and Report, discussed above, tween girls — and tween girls alone — get a treat in Hannah Montana The Movie, which may be silly, but at least it’s about a girl.

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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, 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 archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).