Hollywood’s Femme Fatality Rate

Hollywood’s Femme Fatality Rate (photo)

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You can’t blame women for liking movies with heroines over 50 who haven’t shut down sexually. Middle-aged men should understand the appeal of that, as well. If pop culture is going to be populist, then middle-age moviegoers should be able to find things that speak to their romantic fantasies. “Nights in Rodanthe,” a terrible movie, offered the pleasure of seeing two stars, Diane Lane and Richard Gere, who still look like themselves at midlife (that is, aged naturally instead of encased in plastic), and the promise of movie-star glamour and romance.

The trouble is that Meyers presides over the betrayal of the romantic comedy, which as a genre has gone from a hardheaded acceptance of life’s contingencies to a place for the privileged whining of a culture infantilized by identity politics and complaint as a way of life.

The film critic Maitland McDonagh has pointed out that the heroines in Meyers’ movie almost completely define their worth by their children or their spouses, or by the decor of their houses. Meyers’ heroines are independent basket cases, affluent and alone and miserable instead of, as the classic romantic comedy heroine usually was, competent and sharp and surprised by love when she stumbled over it.

And sisterhood only goes so far in Meyers’ films. Merkin quotes women over 40 talking about how they see themselves in Meyers’ heroines. She doesn’t get around to younger women, say 35 and under, who Meyers consistently portrays as mindless bimbos, vampiric husband stealers, or, at best, bunny-brained little things too tender to know the mean truth about what men are.

As for the men, until they’re tamed by the heroine, they’re crumbs. The finale of “It’s Complicated” is a classic emasculation fantasy in which it’s not enough at the end of the movie for Alec Baldwin to apologize to his ex Meryl Streep for screwing up her romance with Steve Martin. Streep has to extract a retroactive apology for the whole of their marriage, thus giving her the smug satisfaction of having been right all along.


You look at the great romantic comedies of the past — George Cukor’s “Holiday,” “The Awful Truth,” “The Moon’s Our Home,” the “Thin Man” series, “The Shop Around the Corner,” “The Philadelphia Story,” and probably the greatest of all American movie comedies, “The Lady Eve” — and an awful lot of real life, of the complications of sex and love and marriage, is there under the froth. Romantic comedy was always about taking a chance on love. There were no guarantees at the fade-out. We knew the lovers would never find anyone they liked as much as they liked each other, but we also had seen enough of how rocky things were for them to know that life together was going to be anything but smooth.

Contemporary romantic comedies are either revenge fantasies set-decorated by Pottery Barn, or, in the films starring younger actresses, preliminaries to taking out a subscription to Brides magazine. They are less about taking chances than taking out an insurance policy on the future, pretending that everything will be fine forever after.

And uncomfortable as it is to admit, it has to be said that since women are the audience that makes these movies hits, it’s women who are colluding in reaffirming the stereotypes of women as timid and prudish, awash in princess fantasies. There was a lot of ideological bushwah directed at Katharine Heigl’s decision to go ahead with her pregnancy in “Knocked Up” — a sign of our desire to believe complicated issues can always be resolved in the most progressive terms. But Heigl’s performance honors the confusion and fear and uncertainty of her character, and it’s depressing to watch her reduced to the likes of “27 Dresses” or the unbearable “The Ugly Truth” in which she’s playing the kind of prude that used to be reserved for the women cast as W.C. Fields’ wives.


What hope is there for an actress with the crazed comic spark of Elizabeth Banks when we’re asked to adore Amy Adams’ virgin twinkle in picture after picture? Parker Posey’s melancholy dervish of a performance in Zoe Cassavetes’ “Broken English” (a movie that played like an American version of a Rohmer film) should be recognized as a classic of romantic comedy. And while none of us know the demons the late Brittany Murphy was battling, even before her death you could only be sad that that someone who showed such a great unfettered comic spirit, such uninhibited physical talent could only get the likes of “Just Married.”

Of course, it would be great for women filmmakers to challenge the status quo of the mainstream, but is there an audience of women moviegoers ready to support the ones who do? I have heard it said by more than one woman that Kathryn Bigelow, who may become the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar, for “The Hurt Locker,” directs like a man. What can that mean except that there are approved topics for male and female directors and that you risk your gender identity by straying from them? In other words, a movie about war is nothing a woman should make or be interested in. (It might be revealing to ask the women who say this whether or not women should be allowed to serve in the military.)

I don’t want to deny the sexism women directors face, or that there should be more women filmmakers. But we need better films and better chances for good filmmakers, no matter who they are. And I don’t want to set up a phony duel between the mainstream and indie movies. There should be pictures that everyone can see and enjoy and there should be mainstream movies geared to an adult sensibility. But pretending that the mainstream is the only arena that counts is a way of further marginalizing the films that don’t adhere to formula and spectacle, and it’s a way of marginalizing the women filmmakers and actors who have somehow managed to keep working outside of it. The story of women working in movies is an important one. It’s just taking place on a bigger scale than most journalists have covered.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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