Grindhouse Theater Feminism

In Ohio, Tim and I made it a priority to hang out with his sister Grace and her boyfriend Charlie. Tim was in charge of making plans, and so he was texting Grace and relaying what she had to say to me. Grace mentioned that Charlie wanted to see a movie, and so we set it up.

We went to Studio 35, the oldest independent cinema in Columbus, Ohio. When you walk up to it, it has one of those old-style marquees, with the horizontal white rectangles for show names and times, and the vertical neon sign announcing the name of the theater. The front has two doors, one on either side of a narrow bubble glass ticket booth, which was not personed when we arrived.

As we walked in, the previews were already playing. You could see them through the windows in the lobby that looked into the theater, and you could hear the audio clearly (though not perfectly) while we ordered our tickets, our popcorn, and opened a tab for their drafthouse brews.

The movie we saw was Will Ferrel’s “The Other Guys,” which was, in some ways, three different movies.

The first ten minutes or so were pure cop-movie satire, in which Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson were super bad-ass cops that everyone wanted to be. The kind of guys who cause 12 million in property damage to pick up a bunch of punks with an ounce of pot.

Then, there is the typical buddy-movie plot-line. Will Ferrel plays a forensic accountant who just wants to stay at his desk and do his job, but he’s partnered with Mark Wahlberg who desperately wants to get out into the streets and become the next big famous detective. This plot-line revolves around Will Ferrel making condescending and hurtful remarks about his wife (saying she’s fat and ugly, and unstylish) and Mark Wahlberg trying to hit on his partner’s wife.

And then there is the “thinking” part of the movie — the main characters stumble upon a corporate malfeasance crime, involving poor scaffolding permits, a loss of several billion dollars, and a conspiracy to cover it up using retirement funds and the public take of the state lottery. It did a pretty good job of making it clear that while these kinds of crimes aren’t actually all that exciting, they are important to the safety and well-being of the public.

However, the movie mostly rested upon it’s buddy-movie laurels, and as such the level of humor was despicable. The movie did not pass the Bechdel test, it relied upon jokes making femininity an insult, was abusive towards women, and belligerent misrepresentation of homeless men.

As far as I can tell, there was only one joke which was actually in the manner of anti-oppression. Part of Will Ferrel’s character’s background was that he was a pimp in college. He kept insisting he wasn’t a pimp, but his partner keeps making it clear to him that he was a pimp, and he does this in a way that makes it clear that he does not approve. And, later in the movie, Will Ferrel “reverts” to his pimp-self with his wife, and she throws him out for being abusive. That, at least, makes it clear that violence against women, especially in the context of sexual slavery, is wrong.

But for the most part, the movie made it clear that it hated me and my vagina. I started with a soda at Studio 35, but then I had to get up and get a cider, because I ended up toasting the screen every time it added to the oppression of one group or another. Grace joined in, and we toasted each other too. She told me that she appreciated what I was doing — it allowed her to realize that there wasn’t anything wrong with her for being offended, there was something wrong with the movie itself.

As we left the theater, a line was forming outside. Once a month, Studio 35 shows the Rocky Horror Picture Show. People were gathering in costume, including many men wearing grass skirts and coconut bras, proudly strutting around in near-nudity.

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3 thoughts on “Grindhouse Theater Feminism

  1. Yeah, I don’t tend to expect much from Will Ferrell in terms of feminism. And that’s why I don’t go see his movies. Well, that and the fact that I just generally don’t find him very funny.

    I’m curious about your dig at the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the last paragraph, though. Is there something wrong with people going out in public in near nudity? Because I tend to read both the performances and the costumes of RHPS very strongly as queer camp, rather than as anti-feminist or objectifying. Of course, it’s always a fine line when you put your body on display, but the object doesn’t seem to be making oneself sexually desirable nearly so much as consciously poking fun at conventions of desirability.

    • It wasn’t meant as a dig. I was trying to convey spectacle, which is kind of what I understand RHPS to be, and also a separation from the mainstream and “normal”. I haven’t ever seen the movie, nor a shadow performance, but I’d like to someday.

  2. I didn’t find the film to be anti-feminist, really. The jokes in the film did not revolve around women, but around the relationship between these two men. Not many women were featured in the film, to be sure, but on the other hand, women are generally underrepresented in the police force, so that wasn’t that wrong for the type of film it was.

    Eva Mendez’s character, Sheila, is generally disrespected by her husband in theory, but he seems to respect her very much, as shown through his willingness to follow all of her requests, especially to stay safe. She is clearly the real leader of the house and is a doctor. She works and, as a doctor, probably makes most of the money for the household. Also, Farrel’s character goes back and apologizes after he is thrown out and asks for her forgiveness and explains that he is rude to her about her looks because she is beautiful and he is afraid she will realize he doesn’t deserve her.

    I have pretty much hated everything Will Farrel has attempted in the last few years, but I thought most of this one was actually quite funny. It was a pointless comedy flick. I don’t think it needs to be reduced to an examination of how many women were in the film and the roles they take. It was a film about the relationship between two men. It didn’t hate women. The Room hates women. Adventure Time, which you LOVE, uses women only as obstacles and objectives. The Other Guys was just low on female characters and relationships. It was a shallow film, but I found it funny.

    Love you, sweetie. Thanks for always giving me something to think about. 🙂 Sorry to disagree. Also, as far as RHPS goes, I hear that Meadow Brook is doing it next weekend. I was going to go to that. It is showing Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm.

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