AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, March 26, 2010 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Win an Oscar, lose your husband? Who let a girl do serious journalism? and .

AND THE OSCAR FOR DOMESTIC DISTRESS GOES TO… I refuse to link to any of the “OMG, Sandra Bullock totally got cheated on by that cad Jesse James” stories because they have been ubiquitous and unavoidable and boring. Gossip is so tedious, and anyway, how could any woman trust a man who calls himself Jesse James in the first place?

But there’s something to be noted in the story in the larger sense, however. It’s something I’ve been noticing for quite a long while.

Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson started out on relatively equal footing fame-wise, working in British film. They were married in 1989, the same year he directed and starred in the acclaimed Henry V, for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. The next few years after that, however, are not so noteworthy: though he did some fine work (Dead Again, Peter’s Friends, Much Ado About Nothing), the loud and prolonged acclaim and the mega awards were not forthcoming. But during this period, Thompson won a Best Actress Oscar in 1992 for Howards End; the next year she was nominated twice — for Best Actress (Remains of the Day) and Best Supporting Actress (In the Name of the Father). In October 1995, Branagh and Thompson divorced.

When Tom Cruise married Nicole Kidman in 1990, he was Hollywood’s golden boy — after hits such as Top Gun and Rain Man — and one of the biggest box office draws in the world. She had received much acclaim in Australia for her work there, but she was just breaking out in Hollywood. A few years later, in 1995, she made waves with her performance in To Die For, and for the rest of the decade, though Cruise was still a major Hollywood player, her career took off, and threatened to outshine his. They divorced in 2001.

Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe were married in 1997, and divorced in 2006… right after she won her Best Actress Oscar for Million Dollar Baby.

I remember thinking, when Reese Witherspoon won her Oscar for Best Actress for Walk the Line the next year, how soon it would be before we heard that she was divorcing her husband, Ryan Phillippe, whom she met in 1998 when they were both beginning the fame upswing but who was now struggling to maintain his own career in small supporting roles. In fact, we didn’t have to wait long at all for that news; they divorced not long afterward.

This doesn’t quite apply to Bullock and James, of course, because she was already superfamous when they married in 2005 and he was world famous only in motorcycle circles. But she got even supererfamous in 2009, which — if my theory about these things is correct — could have been perceived by him as a threat. And the Bullock/James story occurred just as we learned that Kate Winslet was divorcing her husband, Sam Mendes, a year after she won her Oscar for Best Actress for The Reader.

The simultaneous romantic travails of Bullock and Winslet prompted stories about an “Oscar curse” for women. But it’s not about a curse: it’s about a disturbance in the power balance of a power couple. Powerful men want trophy wives, not wives who win trophies.

Maybe it’s all a coincidence. Maybe it’s not about men who are threatened by their wives’ successes in the same field they work in. Maybe it’s about newly powerful women throwing off men they think they no longer need to advice their careers.

But I can’t think of a comparable situation where the genders are reversed.

CAN A LADYBRAIN HANDLE POLITICS? I could, every week, just point you to Jezebel’s pop culture coverage for a biting look at how women are treated by Hollywood and the media, because the writers there are quick to spot those who deserve a takedown, and so brilliant at dishing out said takedown. Like how Irin brings the enraged snark against Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales this week, who has always let his dick do the thinking when it comes to women on TV.

Irin begins:

Shales’ assessment of female journalists often hinges on whether or not he wants to sleep with them.

It’s not only journalists, of course, whom Shales passes such judgment on. As Irin points out, Shales said this about Kirstie Allie in connection with her show Fat Actress:

[Her body has] grown in size like one of those voracious radioactive monsters in sci-fi films of the ’50s…And it’s not just that she’s fat; her face has taken on threatening, demonic features, and she’s always pushing her sloppy hair out of her eyes. She’s a Disney cartoon villain in three, or four, dimensions.

(Please, click through the Jezebel link for a photo of Shales. I beg you.)

Shales’ latest offense is his critique ABC News’ hiring of Christiane Amanpour to host its show This Week, which denigrates her — a veteran war correspondent and the kind of hardworking, authentic journalist the likes of which we barely see anymore — as “Little ms Politics”. Shales also notes that Amanpour is unsuitable for this job because of her hair:

yipe. What’s the deal with that, as David Letterman might say.

The real problem with Amanpour, Jezebel’s Irin notes, is that she isn’t Diane Sawyer, whose “gorgeousness” (Shales’ word) “bolsters [his] spirits and [his] confidence in the network news business,” and who provides him “sweet solace.”

Clearly, if Amanpour wants to win over Shales, she’s gonna have to go blonde and stop talking about all that icky foreign policy and such unpleasantness.

OPENING THIS WEEK. If you’re a woman who wouldn’t mind traveling back a couple decades and reliving the totally rad 80s, tough luck: no girls allowed in the Hot Tub Time Machine. The film does feature lots of women, however, like the one who disrobes the instant she meets two of our male protagonists, or the woman who is delighted to be offered by her husband as a sexual favor in a bet over a football game. If there’s one overarching theme for our putative heroes to explore in this rampantly misogynist film, it’s that the pliable, slutty women in the 80s were much more interesting than those in 2010, who — like the ex of John Cusack’s character — expect a guy to be someone interesting and steal your widescreen TV when they move out.

How to Train Your Dragon features a male hero, of course — it would be astonishing if an expensive animated film didn’t, what with Hollywood’s perception that hardly anyone wants to see a movie about girls — but he is, at least, kind, compassionate, and averse to violence: he uses his brain instead of a Viking broadsword to solve his problems. And he’s got not one but two cool warrior friends who are female.

On the arthouse circuit, there’s Chloe, which is actually about two different women — played by Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried — and actually about female sexuality and women’s fears of growing older. Too bad it’s not a better film.

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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).