AWFJ Women On Film – The Week in Women, August 7, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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No girl critics allowed, no more chick flicks, and won’t someone please save us from male critics who don’t understand women?

NO GIRLZ ALLOWED. Disney’s TV arm fired the two hosts of its syndicated film-review program At the Movies this week: Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz are out. In? Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune and A.O. (Tony) Scott of The New York Times.

No disrespect intended to either Phillips or Scott, but Disney went with two men… again. That’s in the tradition of the show, of course — it began with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert as hosts. But I have to wonder whether Disney gave any thought whatsoever to the possibility of hiring at least one female critic for the show. There are more than a few female critics who are both well known and comfortable on camera: Leah Rozen of People and Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly spring to mind instantly. But, you know, we female critics are so totally adorable what with how we like teh mooveez and have opinions and stuff, but everyone knows serious criticism is a man’s job. *tee-hee*

NO MORE CHICK FLICKS. Noah Forrest at Movie City News gets it exactly right:

The problem with many of the modern romantic comedies is that the emphasis is squarely on the women. That is not to say that women shouldn’t be front and center in romantic comedies, but that the essence of watching a romance is in watching both members of the partnership being on equal footing so we can root for that romance to succeed. But instead, what we have are fantasies that appeal strictly to women with little care as to whether men will enjoy the picture.

And that’s how these mostly crappy movies ended up getting dubbed “chick flicks,” and hence how the term “chick flick” came to have such a derogatory meaning: the movies are calculated attempts to cash in on women’s fantasies rather than thoughtful attempts to tell interesting stories about interesting people.

Romantic comedies these days need to be based more on both characters rather than trying to figure out what women want to see. I don’t like that there’s a distinction between “dude movies” and “chick flicks” because both of those are just short-hand most of the time for “movies that blow shit up” and “movies that make you cry” respectively. I think it’s borderline sexist that studios and filmmakers make and market films that are for just one type of audience.

Minor note to Forrest: Movies that blow shit up generally deliver, while movies that try to make you cry, rarely succeed.

There’s plenty of evidence in the blogosphere and elsewhere to indicate that many women moviegoers — you know, in the neighborhood of 50 percent of the moviegoing population — feel the same way. I wish they’d just stop going to movies that treat them so abysmally. Sometimes, though, if you want to see a movie about a woman, you’ve got no choice but to hold your nose and buy a ticket for a stinky flick that doesn’t quite understand or downright misrepresents women — and men, too, for that matter.

WOMEN ARE BORING. It’s interesting to see the reactions of male film critics to Nora Ephon’s just-opened Julie & Julia, about how Julia Child became, you know JULIA CHILD and how one woman, fifty years later, was inspired by the famous chef to pursue her own passions. Even the positive reviews — which uniformly praise Meryl Streep’s performance as Child, and rightly so — drip with condescension for Julie Powell in a way that is far more unkind than how male critics discuss movies about male characters. (Most of these critics do praise Amy Adams’ performance, but that’s another matter from how they characterize the character she portrays).

Michael Wilmington at Movie City News, for instance, doesn’t seem to get why Powell might resonate with modern women in the audience:

That’s the twin theme of these stories: how a writer with a good husband strikes it rich by cooking, eating and scribbling about it. The difference, of course, lies in the fact that Julia Child — along with her early collaborators Simone Beck (Linda Emond) and Louise Bertholle (Helen Carey), brought something wonderful to the world: a priceless collection of haute cuisine recipes that fed a multitude and inspired millions, including Julie Powell. Powell simply cooked the 524 recipes in 365 days and blogged, gabbed and whined about her daily routines — winding up with a book deal, and eventually a movie.

Perhaps Powell did not “bring something wonderful to the world” — that’s debatable. But is the story of how she learned to do what she loves not worth telling? Does Wilmington not understand that this is something that women are generally not encouraged to do, and that hence many women never even realize it’s something they could do? Actually, he probably doesn’t.

Lou Lumenick in the New York Post is even more clueless, reducing Powell to a “whiny, self-centered cooking blogger” who is “both boring and annoying” — how dare a woman complain about being bored and then have the audacity to do something about it! He flat out lies:

She goofs off at her job at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, where she’s supposed to be helping 9/11 victims.

We do not witness Powell “goofing off” at her job — in fact, we see her reduced to tears listening to the terrible stories of calling to the hotline she answers. In one quick scene, it’s plain that Powell goes out of her way to annoy her boss in order to get an actual name of an actual person at the end of live phone line to pass on to someone who desperately needs help.

But it sounds so much better, I suppose, if Powell is a fuckup.

More from Lumenick:

Julie has a long-suffering husband (Chris Messina), an architect she repeatedly refers to as a “saint” in her inane blog entries, which are even more poorly written than her book. And how: The film neglects to mention that she famously had an affair after her book was published.

Wow. The film neglects to mention something that happened long after the events of the film, and that have no bearing whatsoever on the story the film is telling! Amazing. (I’ll let slide the fact that her husband is not an architect but a magazine editor.) Those “inane” blog entries? The few of them we’re made privy to in the film are about real issues that real women deal with all the time, things that just happen to be dealt with by Powell within the context of her cooking marathon.

Christopher Orr in The New Republic manages to diss not only the Powell character but all her female contemporaries in the audience:

Did the filmmakers worry that Child wouldn’t be “relatable” to contemporary women? Was there a fear that the 18-35 demographic would decline to show up if it didn’t have an onscreen representative?

That’s the only reason at all why Ephron could have chosen to tell this story this way: Because no one under 50 would have bothered to see it otherwise. What other possibility exists?

Orr describes Powell as “moody” — and we know what that’s a metaphor for — and “self-absorbed,” and her marriage “fraught” because she had one fight with her husband over the course of the film. Orr mentions the affair, too, cuz what a dig to get in! She calls her husband a “saint” in the film, and then she cheats on him. The bitch! And after he was so saintly. The marriage is one “into which she seems disinclined to put much effort,” after all — the nerve of the whore to pursue her own interests and not devote herself slavishly to her man:

She now has something she is doing for herself that can override her obligations to anyone else: a fake sick day here, a neglected hubby there.

One fake sick day. The villain! No man has ever taken a sick day when he wasn’t sick.

How many movies are about genuinely whiny, obnoxious, moody, imperfect human beings who happen to be men? And here’s one — one! — that treats a woman with the same appreciation for her flawed humanity, and it must be torn down for that.

(By the way, I’m not suggesting, of course, that all male critics are responding this way, or that all female critics love the film unconditionally. But there’s a mean-spirited tenor to the male response that I have not seen in those from female critics, even the ones who don’t like the film.)

ALSO OPENING THIS WEEK. There’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the best of which can be said about it regarding its depiction of female characters is that one of them (played by Sienna Miller) is described by another thus: “She was a blond,” as if her current status as a brunette was enough to explain why she turned villainous.

A Perfect Getaway could be considered feminist in how its equal opportunity for serial killers: a murderous couple, male and female, is on the loose, and offing newlyweds for fun. It’s true: any job that a man can do, a woman can do just as well.

Newcomer female filmmakers — hoorah! Sophie Barthes makes her feature debut with Cold Souls, an existential comedy starring Paul Giamatti as an actor looking to shed his soul, hoping to be rid of its nagging. And, performance artist Charlyne Yi writes and stars in Paper Heart, a mockumentary about looking for the meaning of love, and finding it in unexpected ways.

The repulsive practice of “honor killing” women who are deemed lacking in appropriate virtue gets play in the 2007 Turkish film Bliss (Mutluluk), which finally gets a small release in the U.S.

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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).