Not All Tomboys Are Created Equal

Not All Tomboys Are Created Equal (photo)

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Anyone who believes progress is linear need only look at the history of women on film — especially the tomboy. Fierce and independent, the tomboy has always proved an ideal symbol of female power, a term I can scarcely invoke for fear of sounding outré these days. Whether gay or straight, she’s the kind of girl who pursues her passions with nary a
thought about how pretty she looks while doing so. It’s not that she doesn’t care about anything; she cares a lot. She just doesn’t give a fuck about what others think of her. It’s hardly surprising that US cinema hasn’t always known how to handle her.

Take the intrepid Jo March, of Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women.” In George Cukor’s 1933 film adaptation, she was portrayed by Great Kate Hepburn in a nearly perfect feat of casting. Only 16 years later, toothless June Allyson watered her down shamefully, but it was Winona Ryder — smack-dab in the Riot-Grrrl ’90s, even — who turned in the worst Jo yet, simpering each line of dialogue as if it were a tremulous question.

Perhaps progress is linear, after all — in the sense that it is a linear devolution, at least in US film. What else could explain “The Runaways,” about the girls rock group that gave Joan Jett her start? Biopics, especially music biopics, always prove a thorny endeavor; either they stray too far from actual facts or kowtow to the weak dramatic arc of actual human lives. But “The Runaways” fails entirely on its own terms, mostly because it dishonors the tomboy, the very concept that should live at its core.

03182010_runaways2.jpgOnce again, part of the problem lies in the casting. Based on contemporary American cinema, you’d think there were no badass women alive under the age of 50. (Thank G-d for the Susan Sarandons of this world.) “Arrested Development”‘s Alia Swawkat, she of the perfect timing, is wasted in the criminally underwritten character of fictional bandmate Robin. The gimmick of former child star Dakota Fanning as hopped-up, sexed-up lead singer Cherie proffers nothing save some rubbernecking appeal.

But it’s Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”‘s antifeminist heroine Bella Swan) as Joan Jett who is most wildly miscast. Shifting nervously from side to side, she mumbles her dialogue with less teen-rebel disdain than a general lack of fortitude. While belting out a song lyric, she actually rolls her eyes, as if embarrassed by her own stridency. Although the physical resemblance between the two is uncanny, it’s easier to place the ever-passive Stewart as a groupie than as the unflinching groundbreaker Jett has been for 35 years now. O Lady Joan, how has she forsaken thee?

But it’s too simple to lay all the blame at the actress’ feet. As band manager Kim, Michael Shannon is wonderfully, manically grim, but he’s sinking his fangs into the only well-written role in the film. “The Runaways” is hobbled by a lousy script and lousier direction, both by Floria Sigismondi, who seems too invested in her earlier incarnation
as a photographer. Actual plot development is supplanted by montages shot at funny angles, sometimes underwater. Characters drift along and then suddenly explode into an unearned hyperdrive, in which they break guitars and hoover coke in airplane bathrooms.

03172010_somedays3.jpgWorse, without warning they sometimes break out of their verbal torpor to lapse into bumperstickerese: “It’s about the music, not your crotch.” “This isn’t about women’s lib, this is about women’s libido.” And even though this film finally outs Jett once and all (unconfirmed rumors of her lesbianism have followed her since the ’70s), her sexual dalliances are captured in such mealymouthed, fun-house blurs that her queerness seems more a fashion choice than an earnest compulsion.

Many may be inclined toward this film solely because of the novelty of women playing rock and roll in such pitch-perfect costumes. But I find it the worst kind of form over function, in which all involved seem to have forgotten that the aesthetic rebellions of the time stemmed from a deeper defiance of the status quo. None of these girls hint at any interior lives, so all they can do is aim to please no matter how hardened their façade. They are objects rather than subjects, even to themselves. And you can’t get less punk than that.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.