Saturday, September 08, 2007

Revenge of the Nerds

The following comes
from Jeanette Catsoulis's
review of Dedication

That weird exhalation you hear at the multiplex these days is the sound of female characters settling for less than they deserve. Following on the wildly successful antifeminist heels of Knocked
, Hollywood is falling over itself to introduce beautiful,
smart young women to useless, possibly brain-damaged
young men. Regular bathers need not apply.

And here's Joe Queenan's perspective on the phenomenon:

[T]he new genre of romantic comedies are not really
upbeat, coming-of-age motion pictures about young
male schmucks who are saved by the love of a good
woman, but heart-rending tragedies about beautiful
young women who are doomed to spend the rest of their
lives with juvenile, not especially good-looking dorks.

To Catsoulis I say: Sing it, sister!
Unlike Queenan, I didn't find Knocked Up to be misogynist—"If this offensive, misogynist nonsense is the future of cinema then we're in deep trouble"—but
I found the emasculated ending more dispiriting than inspiring. (As my friend Bill has noted, that incongruous aerial shot at the end suggests the couple is
on their way to the Overlook Hotel.)

Maybe "antifeminist" is a bit much, but Catsoulis has a point.
And I'm glad she made it, but Queenan's addition is crucial.
These women appear to be settling for less than they deserve,
but so many of these rom-coms—Dedication included—argue that the love of a good woman can turn a sadsack into a winner. It's a conclusion meant to please both genders. The lonely gal
finds a mate, the pathetic guy becomes an upstanding citizen.

Sure, people can change, but these movies make it look too simple, and change happens too fast—at least When Harry
Met Sally
spent a few years with its central duo. This new breed also suggests that women who can't transform their menfolk
are failures. Women already have enough to worry about.

Hence, I prefer movies about people—regardless of gender or sexual orientation—who find partners just as screwed up as themselves. Assuming they can't make things work, they extract themselves from the situation, learn from the experience, and eventually find someone more deserving. Or they grow into maturity together. Ah, but I guess that isn't quite so "funny."

Queenan has some more great quotes about Knocked Up:

This is a film for teenage
boys who dream of growing up to be teenage men.

The point it purports to
make is that men do not grow up until they have children, and maybe not even then.

Amazingly, neither party ever seriously considers the
highly attractive option of abortion, which may be a
sign that the anti-abortion movement is gathering strength
in Hollywood, or may simply result from a realisation
that abortion makes a poor subject for a comedy (puking
and watching women on the toilet is fine, though).

And finally:

I think women need to start their own
film industry: this one isn't working.

Sing it, brother!

Click here for part two

Endnote: Y'know, I kinda like Billy Crudup's performance
in Dedication, and I like Justin Theroux's direction, too.
David Bromberg's script also has some clever lines—it's the everything's-gonna-be-okay conclusion I don't buy (with a character as fucked up as Henry, things may never be "okay").

But I prefer it to Knocked Up. Not because it's a better movie—it's downright dour in comparison—but because the ending doesn't posit a complete transformation for its protagonist. Henry learns how to love, and that's great, but we don't know for certain that any he's less neurotic than before. Dedication opens in Seattle on 9/14. Video from YouTube, images from Google Images.


ratzkywatzky said...

I just watched part of An Unmarried Woman. Not that it's much more than an intriguing time capsule anymore, but it is refreshing to see someone *not* settling for less than she deserves. Could a movie with an ending like that even be made anymore? Can't see Bridget Jones turning down Alan Bates.

kathy fennessy said...

No doubt! I miss Mr. Bates. He's one of my favorite British actors, and I wish he was still with us. I was shocked when he died, because he looked so robust (see "Gosford Park") and was working right up until the very end.