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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.

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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.

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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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