AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, August 28, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Sandra Bullock needs to know her place (hint: it’s below her male co-stars), Hollywood is the domain of white men, the absence of ladies who criticize, and…

SANDRA BULLOCK IS OLD AND UGLY AND NO ONE REALLY LIKES HER, BOX OFFICE HITS TO THE CONTRARY. “Should Sandra Bullock keep pairing up (on-screen) with younger men?” asks Annie Barrett at the Entertainment Weekly blog PopWatch. See, Bullock is old — she’s 45! oh no! — and yet, inexplicably, she’s still a box-office draw. How on Earth could that have happened? Answering her own question, Barrett continues:

Seems to be working, right? The Proposal, in which Sandra Bullock starred with the ever-Musty Ryan Reynolds, has gobbled up almost $160 million this summer, bypassing the domestic gross of last year’s Sex and the City movie. Next up for the rom-com queen is All About Steve with Bradley Cooper, out September 4.

Now, the question itself seems a bit premature: it remains to be seen whether All About Steve will be a success (it looks hideous, and Bullock acting like an overgrown eight-year-old should be deeply embarrassing to a 45-year-old woman, but then again, The Proposal was a nightmare, too, and that didn’t stop if from raking in the dough). But much more dodgy is the conclusion Barrett draws from Steve’s putative status as a hit:

If it does work out, Bullock could really be onto something here. I wonder if she should just abandon the high-drama roles (her blonde-banged mama-bear character in The Blind Side seems particularly unbearable) and commit wholeheartedly to films in which she beds every under-35 moneymaker in town.

See? Reynolds is 12 years younger than Bullock, and Cooper 11 years younger. It must be the guys for whom audiences are clamoring, not Sandy. If Steve is successful, it won’t be because audiences really really like watching Bullock onscreen, or because she made good choices as a producer of both Steve and The Proposal… it’ll be because audiences want to see Bradley Cooper, just because he was in The Hangover, that other summer hit! (And The Proposal was a smash not because of Bullock but because of Ryan Reynolds, whom EW had already determined back in June, before The Proposal was even released and its box-office potential was unknown, was one of the summer’s can’t-miss propositions.)

I won’t even touch the matter of a decade-plus age difference between onscreen lovers being nothing even worth mentioning when the gender’s on the other foot. But instead of celebrating the audience’s embracing of an older woman/younger man dynamic, the power still has to be snatched out of the woman’s hands… and by a female journalist, to boot. Very disappointing… but perhaps not too suprising.

WHITE MEN CLING TO THEIR POWER: EXAMPLE NO. 3,346,921. Michael Cieply at The New York Times has a newsflash for us: film directors who work for Hollywood studios are overwhelmingly male and white and middle-aged. I know: Shocking, right?

If you are splashing around with a bunch of guys who are 93 percent white, an average of 45.62 years old and look as if they’ve done this before, you must be swimming in the studio directors’ pool.

Such is the profile of studio filmmakers, based on a survey of those who directed the 85 or so live action movies that have been released, or will be, in 2009 by the six biggest film companies — Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Brothers.

It’s not really such a big deal, though, because it’s not like getting some women and nonwhites into the mix would be likely to change things:

Uniformity would seem to shut out potential viewers and revenue. But there is really no way to be sure whether sales would go up or down if the studio directing pool were more diverse.

I can barely express how deeply the casual thoughtlessness of such a statement shocks me. It shouldn’t — because the easy dismissal of anything that deviates from the perceived “norm” of whiteness and maleness it absolutely par for the course — but it does shock me nonetheless.

Of course Hollywood is a business, and of course Hollywood is all about making money. But Cieply here is saying two things that should be terrifying to anyone who values even the cutthroat realm of corporate politics and the goal of profits-above-all:

1) It’s not worth at least giving women and nonwhites a chance at directing studio films because we cannot be absolutely guaranteed that their films will make more money than the films the studios are currently producing with white men at the helm. That is to say, taking a relatively small chance on the possibility of greater profits is not worth the risk if it means letting people into the club who have not typically been let into the club before. That’s the kind of corporate conservatism that even greedy, grasping fatcats should be aghast at: “You mean you don’t want us to make more money?” they should be shouting. And yet, this is thoroughly typical: even greedy, grasping fatcats will go against their own best narrow, shallow financial interests if doing so maintains their exclusivity and perceived superiority.

2) Even if movies directed by women and nonwhites were to make precisely the same amount of money as movies directed by white men, that would not be reason enough to hand a few more films over to women and nonwhites. Translation: Women and nonwhites have no worth to corporations whatsoever unless they can clearly and unequivocally outperform white males. There is no reason at all to include women and nonwhites among the ranks of white men if that means merely maintaining the profit status quo.

That old saying about a woman having to work twice as hard as a man for half the recognition springs to mind…

A LADY DOESN’T CRITICIZE. Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere is almost completely unable to come up with a list of women critics worth reading:

Somebody asked me to name off my favorite under-40 female critics the other night. I forget how the subject came up or why under-40 was mentioned as opposed to under-30 or under-50…

Now, he does name a few he likes — Kim Morgan, Karina Longworth, Kim Voynar, Katey Rich (all but Morgan, by the way, are AWFJ members) — but c’mon: the headline for this posting is “Lady Crickets.” Not “women” — “lady.” (The “crickets”-for-“critics” thing is, at least, a disparaging term applied equally to either gender engaging in artistic bloodsucking.) It’s hard to imagine any critic measuring up to the term “lady,” seeing as how the whole point of criticism is to rip apart someone else’s work.

But I kid. The real point is: Can you imagine anyone asking anyone else to name some fine under-40 “gentleman” critics. It just wouldn’t happen. Because film critics are assumed to be male, unless otherwise proven — and age just doesn’t matter the same way when applied to evaluating them and their contributions.

LADY LOOKS LIKE A DUDE? AWFJ member Carrie Rickey notices that Liev Schreiber is kinda hot in drag in Ang Lee’s new movie:

So I’m watching Taking Woodstock, Ang Lee’s charmer about Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin), who inadvertently made the storied Festival happen, and in walks Vilma, a musclebound blonde in a candy-pink dress, resembling Mamie Van Doren with stubble. S/he speaks in a familiar voice, like honey mixed with molten asphalt. Holy cow! Liev Schreiber in drag?!?

And how does Schreiber compare with other movie cross-dressers? Very favorably. While the effect is largely due to the contrast of pink frock with Deep Purple voice, his steel-ribbed sensitivity made me think he’d make a great Blanche DuBois.

I’d nominate him for cinema’s genderbender Hall of Fame.

And she goes on to name a few other members… all of whom are gals pretending to be guys:

Greta Garbo’s Queen Christina, Katharine Hepburn’s Sylvia Scarlett, Doris Day’s Calamity Jane, Julie Andrews’ Victor/Victoria, Gwyneth Paltrow’s turn in Shakespeare in Love and Hilary Swank’s Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry. (I also would pull for Joyce Hyser in Just One of the Guys and Amanda Bynes in She’s the Man, teen movies that dance over the slippery issues of heterosexual boys suddenly attracted to boys, not knowing that the object of their affection is a girl in jeans.)

Until she gets to the also-rans:

Also enshrined are Cary Grant in I Was a Male War Bride, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot, Dustin Hoffman’s Tootsie, Robin Williams’ Mrs. Doubtfire, Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo and Wesley Snipes in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, and Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Nathan Lane in The Birdcage.

I dunno what it means that most (though not all) of the women she names are in older movies, and most (though not all) of the men she names are in newer ones. Is it that men needing to pretend to be women is somehow more relevant today, with women ascendent, or that men needing to pretend to be women is somehow funnier today because the notion of women with any kind of power is still a joke?

OPENING THIS WEEK: We can just ignore splatter flick Halloween II and The Final Destination, which are only about people getting killed. Taking Woodstock doesn’t feature any female characters worth mentioning beyond Imelda Staunton’s bitchy, neurotic mother. Staunton is a treasure, as always, but she doesn’t have much to work with. (For the few indies featuring female characters or made by female filmmakers, see the AWFJ’s regular weekend report.)

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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).